News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.
Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.
February 20, 2020
Oakland tenants fight displacement by billionaire landlord
By Hannah Lamb-Vines and Marissa Seko
The Mosser Company, a billion-dollar corporate landlord, bought 20 buildings in Oakland in 2017, with a goal of exploiting a loophole that could allow them to raise the rent this year by up to 10% on over 580 tenants. Unfortunately for them, tenants are working together to fight back.
The Mosser Company, which owns 3,000 units of housing in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, is both a driver and beneficiary of California’s housing and gentrification crises. The company uses its private equity arm Mosser Capital to purchase buildings in “emerging” neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and West Oakland. They make enough upgrades to the buildings to evade rent-hike laws, a practice they describe as a “visionary value-add strategy to turn around troubled multifamily housing assets in transitioning residential neighborhoods.” The rent increases are the most damaging to long-time tenants paying less than market rate, many of whom are the least able to afford a rent hike: the working class, black and brown seniors, people with disabilities, and struggling families.
Under Oakland’s rent control laws, landlords are generally prohibited from raising the rent on tenants who qualify for rent control above the rate of inflation, which is 3.5% for this year. However, when landlords make “capital improvements” or experience “operating expense increases,” they can use this to evade the rent-control rules and increase rent up to 10% in a given year. Those who can’t pay the increased rent must move or face eviction.
After the success of the Moms4Housing action earlier this year, tenants across Oakland are feeling empowered to fight back. Mosser residents realized that by organizing together, they could wield more power against their corporate landlord.
At a meeting tenants from multiple Mosser buildings organized last week, Sonia Rossiter, who has lived in Oakland for 40 years and in her building for 12, described the superficial renovations that the Mosser Companies have made since buying her building three years ago. “They did a paint job and changed some of the landscaping, which would never even last,” she said.
Meanwhile, tenants say the Mosser Companies are slow to respond to complaints from tenants about problems with their units, such as a leak or an electrical issue. “You could be waiting a week for anything they don’t deem an emergency,” Rossiter said. “Things might not be an emergency at the moment but if you wait that long, they could turn into one.”
Tenants say the Mosser Companies use misinformation and fear tactics to manipulate them. Angela Shannon, a Mosser tenant, said Mosser sends tenants notices announcing a surprise rent hike, then later sends notices saying the hike is off – once the tenant may already be considering moving. However, if a tenant misses a rent payment, notice to quit is sent immediately and consistently.
The buildings’ tenants suffer not only from the threat of rent increase, but also from the disruption of a parade of short-term AirBnB tenants. Rossiter said that since the unit next door became vacant last year, she hasn’t seen the same tenant there for more than a few weeks. “It’s like a revolving door,” she said. By increasing rent and evicting long-term tenants from their buildings, Mosser can turn rent controlled units into profitable short term units. This directly contributes to the Bay Area’s homelessness crisis. “If rent goes up again I won’t have any room in my budget,” Rossiter said. “I live in fear. I have nowhere else to go. This is my home.”
Through the support of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) though, tenants are coming together in solidarity to found a new tenants’ union and lead a new campaign to fight back against Mosser and draw attention to this gap in rent control laws.
In addition to building a defense for the hearings before the rent board, the tenants have been ramping up their struggle. They ran a “phone zap” action against Mosser, where scores of tenants and supporters called Mosser offices demanding a meeting, shutting down their phone lines on December 11th. A week later, activists hand-delivered a demand letter to their Oakland leasing office.
In the post-Moms4Housing world of Bay Area tenant organizing, Mosser should be very worried about what’s next for them.
For more information on how to support this campaign, reach out to EBDSA’s social housing committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or come to the next EBDSA Social Housing Committee meeting at ACCE, at 2501 International Boulevard in Oakland on March 18 at 7pm.