The Antioch City Council granted preliminary approval Tuesday to an “anti-harassment” ordinance that will bring new fines, criminal penalties, and restrictions on common property management practices.
In the coming weeks, the council is expected to formally approve the ordinance, with the rules taking effect 30 days later.
The law will allow the city to sue housing providers on behalf of tenants or tenant organizations. It also creates a presumption of guilt without due process if an act is considered retaliatory, should it occur within six months of a rent increase or tenancy adjustment. Additionally, certain rent increases could be classified as harassment if the tenant deems them as such. Furthermore, the ordinance will require housing providers to continue offering amenities such as parking and common areas, even if they are not economically feasible.
These changes will apply to all residential units in Antioch, including condominiums, single-family homes, and owner-occupied single-family homes where the owner shares living space with a roommate. Violations of the ordinance will carry substantial penalties, including fines of up to $10,000, rent refunds, attorney’s fees, and even potential jail time.
CAA’s advocacy efforts, however, did secure key amendments, such as the removal of subletting in the definition of “housing services.” The original definition would have given renters a right to unlimited subletting and one-for-one roommate replacements even if subletting is prohibited in the lease agreement. Other amendments included a clarification that housing providers wouldn’t be penalized for rejecting a rent payment during a pending eviction case and for removing an illegally parked car.
The pursuit of “anti-harassment” ordinances has been gaining traction in California.
During the public comments segment Tuesday, CAA led the opposition.
Rhovy Lyn Antonio, a senior vice president of local public affairs for the association, warned the ordinance could deter rental property owners from investing in Antioch.
“What this is actually doing is redefining the definition of harassment and adding new restrictions that only serve to create financial and legal landmines for Antioch housing providers,” Antonio said, as reported in the Mercury News.
Joe Stokely Sr., an Antioch rental property owner, expressed similar concerns, as reported in the Antioch Herald. “You presume … all landlords are bad,” Stokely said. “Please don’t make me have to go through the process at my age of selling my properties and invest elsewhere.”
Ranae Callaway, meanwhile, pointed out the significant fines included in the ordinance and the ambiguity around the definition of “bad faith.”
Ignoring these objections, the council moved forward with the ordinance on a 3-1 vote. The only opposing vote came from Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock, and Councilman Mike Barbanica recused himself due to his involvement in real estate.
Before the meeting, CAA encouraged landlords to contact the council and reaffirm their commitment to following existing California laws prohibiting harassment, discrimination, illegal rent increases, and evictions. During the hearing, landlords urged the city to concentrate on educating the public about these existing protections rather than creating redundant laws. They also testified that the ordinance’s penalties are excessive and undermine due process, potentially creating an unwelcoming environment for rental housing providers in Antioch.
“The punishment is excessive and makes this ordinance very punitive – jail time, excessive fees on top of state law,” Antonio said during her testimony. “If we are trying to send a message that rental property owners should invest in Antioch, this message is not it.”
CAA will continue working with the city on provisions the city council did not address, such as the presumption of guilt and a transparent public policy process that includes housing providers. Despite these efforts, it is worth noting that the council majority has so far rejected any proposals to conduct outreach and communication with housing providers. The association urges Antioch housing providers to get involved as more regulations are expected as early as this fall. Contact Rhovy Lyn Antonio at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how you can help.