Smith v. City of Oakland
Smith v. City of Oakland
Oakland renters who need to live in accessible units are either shut out of the City’s rent control protections entirely, or forced to live in inaccessible units. Please contact DRA if you are in either situation, we want to hear from you! Contact DRA at 510-665-8644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On August 28, 2019 – Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and PILP filed a class action lawsuit alleging that people with disabilities are discriminatorily excluded from Oakland’s rent stabilization program (also known as rent control). Oakland’s rent control program covers approximately 60% of the City's rental properties, providing meaningful protection from rapidly rising rents, for those who reside in these protected properties. However, people with mobility disabilities are uniquely barred from this protection; Oakland’s program exempts every building constructed after January 1, 1983, from its coverage—yet laws establishing accessibility standards about essential features like stair-free entryways and grab bars went into effect years after that date. As a result, nearly every accessible rental unit in Oakland is excluded from the City’s rent control program.
“I used to live in a more accessible apartment, but I had to leave when the rent started to go up faster than I could afford. I was fortunate to find an inaccessible rent-stabilized unit that I could work with—more or less—but it’s not always easy, and I worry that I’m only one injury away from not being able to do it at all.”- Plaintiff Mitch Jeserich
To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Oakland must modify its rent stabilization program so that people who need accessible housing can access the same benefits that the city affords to its nondisabled renters, on the same terms. Because the requirements of the federal ADA supersede state law, Oakland must modify its program even if California’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which imposes limitations on local rent control policies, would not otherwise allow it.
“Renters with disabilities across Oakland are harmed by the lack of accessible units covered by the city’s rent stabilization program. I worry that many have already been forced out of the City because they need to live in accessible units and, as a result, have no opportunity to access rent stabilization.”- Sean Betouliere, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates
This lawsuit comes at a dire time for Oakland renters. Average market-rate rents in Oakland have almost doubled over the past decade; in the past year alone, the median price for a one-bedroom apartment has increased by nearly 13 percent. Because they are denied the protections of Oakland’s rent stabilization program, people with disabilities who need accessible housing are especially susceptible to these skyrocketing rents.
“For many tenants, rent stabilization is the difference between having or not having a place to live in Oakland and in other communities with rent control. The blanket exclusion from Oakland’s rent stabilization program of all units built less than 36 years ago effectively denies a person needing to live in an accessible unit from protections of the program. We hope that this litigation will make Oakland’s rent control program more accessible to tenants with disabilities.”- Michael Rawson, Director of the Public Interest Law Project