Sex Work

Oakland City Officials Can Now Require Landlords to Evict Sex Workers



Landlords in Oakland, California, will now be required to evict sex workers from their properties if the city asks them to. Under an ordinance passed by the Oakland City Council Tuesday, city officials have authority to force suspected sex workers—along with anyone engaged in certain "nuisance" activities—from their homes, even if these individuals haven't been convicted of any crimes. The ordinance also allows landlords to request that the city carry out evictions of these individuals. It passed the Council by unanimous vote.

The bill was overshadowed locally by another ordinance passed that night, the Tenant Protection Ordinance. Designed to prevent landlords from harassing rent-controlled tenants, this statute bans landlords from failing to do repairs, taking away amenities, or intruding on a tenant's privacy in an attempt to force them out—things that even the ordinance's sponsor acknowledges are already illegal under state law.

"Yet the amended Nuisance Eviction Ordinance is a big deal," writes Kriston Capps at CityLab. It expands the boundaries of an already-controversial law passed in 2004, which granted city officials authority to evict tenants arrested on drugs or weapons possession charges. Under the updated ordinance, they can also pursue the eviction of "nuisance" tenants engaged in prostitution, solicitation, pimping, pandering, illegal ammunitions possession, or illegal gambling. From Capps:

"It's horrible. It's unconscionable," said Anne Omura, then a managing attorney at Oakland's Eviction Defense Center, in a 2004 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "We feel that it just really tramples on the rights of tenants and doesn't give them a lot of due process."

(…) While the original NEO invests the City Administrator with the power to pursue evictions, the new amendment—which was penned by City Attorney Barbara Parker—also grants extra-judicial eviction powers to the office of the City Attorney.

The amended bill further stipulates that a landlord who fears for his or her safety may ask the newly invested City Attorney to carry out the eviction (on the landlord's dime). Finally, the city can go after the landlord for not taking action against a tenant "after being apprised by the City that the tenant has engaged in illegal activity."

"Landlords already have the power by state law and by local ordinance to remedy conduct that the ordinance describes as public nuisance," says Marc Janowitz, supervising attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center. "The addition of the city's muscle exaggerates an already extreme imbalance in power between landlords and tenants generally."

As if all of this wasn't crazy coercive enough, the new Oakland ordinance leaves determining who is a sex worker, drug dealer, or illegal bookie up to city officials' and landlords' discretion. An individual need not be convicted or even charged with prostitution to trigger eviction; the text of the ordinance merely mentions "engaging in" the activity. (The activity also needn't take place on the property, only be "connected" to or "associated with" it.)

"The bill does not describe what burden of proof the city needs to meet in order to 'apprise' a landlord that a tenant has 'engaged' in said illegal activity, Capps notes. "Nor does the bill stipulate how or whether this evidence (presuming some is required) is to be shared with the tenant."

Essentially, the city can now force anyone it deems undesirable out of town on the flimsiest of pretences. Cops can't make a prostitution charge stick? Have the city evict her! Can't meet the burden of proof that someone's selling drugs? Have the city evict them! City officials say it's no big deal because residents can contest the eviction in court. But if we look at the people most suspected of drug and sex-work related activity, it's usually not wealthy, legally-savvy individuals who have the resources or werewithal to fight it. 

According to Oakland journalist Susie Cagle, the city is unlikely to show major qualms about using the new ordinance against sex workers. "This is a continuation of a theme," Cagle tweeted Tuesday. "City attorney Parker has made cracking down on sex work and 'trafficking' central since taking office," 

In explaining the need for the law, City Attorney Parker wrote:

Not only does illegal nuisance activity detract from the beauty and livability of our city, but it breeds disrespect for our neighborhoods and communities, encourages additional nuisance activity, and disregard the law in general. Furthermore, individuals engaging in off-premises illegal activities within a close proximity to their residences are highly likely to use their residences to further and conceal their illegal activity. Additionally, gambling, prostitution, pimping, pandering, and solicitation negatively impacts Oakland's business environment.

In September, California renewed a state pilot-program that allows Los Angeles, Long Beach, Sacramento, and Oakland to evict residents arrested (not necessarily convicted) for illegal firearms or ammunition possession, and there's evidence that these cities were told, indirectly, to "use it or lose it" when it comes to the power. Read Capps' whole piece for more detailed info on that craziness.

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  1. So “sex worker” is what we have to use, now? Not whore, pimp, or hustler?

    1. Harlot, streetwalker, lady of the evening, fille de joie, fallen woman, white slave, escort, masseuse, actress…whatever.

      1. Hooker, sugar baby, fancy woman…

        1. hostess, comfort woman, lap-dancer…

          1. trafficked woman, ho, “where’s my money, bitch”

            1. journalist

              Oops, how did that get in there?

              1. (present company excepted)

              2. Politician

            2. I lolled.

      2. Can we bring back fille de joie?

          1. Yelp?

            “Four stars. Would boink again once they get their STDs treated”

    2. I’m pretty sure you can use whatever you want to. But if you don’t want to be an asshole for no reason, it’s probably nice to use a term that isn’t essentially pejorative.

  2. Why not just say that anyone convicted of prostitution has to move out of their apartment, or whatever the city is trying to do here?

    Oh, wait, they’re trying to bypass normal due-process guarantees. OK, carry on, then.

    1. They’ve skipped the “convicted” step. This is more like asset forfeiture for rental agreements.

  3. The aristocracy is finally regaining its rights over its lands and peasants. The serfs have had it too good for too long!

    1. You make like a joke that is also not so joke. It makes sad me.

  4. I’m not sure that not being allowed to live in Oakland is a bad thing.

  5. Am I correct in assuming that Oakland is starting to gentrify? This is the sort of petty tyranny that one often finds in such places.

    1. Some stuff I was reading mentioned how landlords were trying to get rent-controlled tenants out b/c they could get much, much higher rents now, so I’d say yes.

      1. So let me get this straight, out is now illegal to harass rent-controlled tenants, But if you want them evicted you just have to tell the city that you “think” you tenant is a prostitute and the city will evict them for you….hmm. That city council meeting is an example of top-notch legislating.

        1. As I read the story, I was pretty sure that was the intention there: that what one hand was taking away, the other was giving back. It’s a bit convoluted, but it presents a way for a landlord to get rid of a rent-controlled tenant without saying it’s for economic reasons, by steering it into one of those categories of “undesirables”. And then everyone wins, see? The pols get credit for both supporting the people in their right to keep a dwelling at below-market rates and for ridding the town of undesirables. The landlords seem to lose a weapon they had, but they’re given another in its place?a bit unwieldy, perhaps, but serviceable.

    2. Absolutely. When rents started spiraling out of control in the 90s, there was a strong drive to start evicting and renovating. Lots of legislation got tossed around to prevent landlords from evicting rent-controlled tenants, which also put the brakes on renovations.

      The rumor has always been that these sorts of laws get applied largely on a crony-system to enable “friends of the city” to clear out their properties and do some “urban renewal,” but I’ve never believed it.

    3. SF rents are so out of control, we’re getting the spillover in Oakland.

      Also, our next mayor is going to be a bearded lady, so that has to count for something.

    4. There were already plenty of nice areas in Oakland – and that was 20 years ago last time I was there.

  6. So… how many of those undesirable section 8s that can no longer be harrassed out will now get evicted on a panoply of ‘nuisance’ accusations. “8B lets drug dealers crash on her couch, 7C might be a call girl…”

    1. All of them. It’ll make some happy to know that this (as all “nuisance” laws are) will be used against LGBT people.

  7. What constitution?

  8. The insanity is that the City of Oakland has made it all but impossible for a *landlord* to evict someone.

    If the landlord knows his tenant is a crack-addicted prostitute who cooks on an open fire on the floor of the apartment, that landlord is going to have a devil of a time showing cause to evict that tenant, and it will take at least 6 months to make it happen.

    So, the resulting solution to the problem of undesirable tenants? Give the City unilateral power to decide a landlord needs to evict someone, without involving the pesky landlord in that decision (because, you know, evil rich people and all).

    What could go wrong? OAKLAND, EVERYONE!

    1. And if a tenant *is* a crack-addicted prostitute, then “community activists” will complain how evil profit-seeking landlords are bringing undesirables into our neighborhoods!

    2. Think about it: it concentrates the power to evict in the hands of the politicians. That’s why they’re doing it, and continuously giving themselves more and more power is their ongoing objective. Everything about this works in their favor and increases their influence.

      1. No doubt – in Oakland they’re already old hands at using “urban blight” as a pretext to outright confiscate properties and redistribute them to politically connected developers.

        The saving grace is the utter and absolute incompetence of the Oakland City Government. They are long on plans and intentions, short on actual achievements.

        1. “Urban blight” caused, by and large, by the planners, no doubt.

          1. Sometimes the officials don’t need the planning:

            “Oakland Mayor Jean Quan accused of home blight”

          2. Well, rent control certainly has nothing to do with it, so don’t even go there . . .

    3. Who said the pesky landlord won’t be involved in the decision? It says the landlord can ask the city att’y to do the eviction. The city att’y can also act on hir own, but it’s not as if the landlord can’t initiate action as well.

  9. Suspected terrorist, suspected sex-workers…

    Lavrentiy Beria would be proud.

  10. Since these “suspected” undesirables will have to be pointed out to the authorities, I’m guessing landlords saddled with rent-controlled apartments have now acquired a shortcut to getting rid of those rent-control tenants.

    I look forward to lulzy confrontations as these morons try to square the circle of “Never evict a rent-control tenant under any circumstances, ever” and “Kick down the doors and drag the undesirables out onto the streets.”

    1. It 100% has to do with whether or not the landlord knows anyone on the City Council.

      1. No, its a very complex equation.

        Basically (likelihood of victimless crime x lost rent / victim status of tenant + income of tenant)0 +or- whether or not landlord donated to local democratic party or candidates= eviction.

  11. You’ve got to love this from the City Attorney’s point of view. Cops arrest a [‘nuisance’ category of your choice]. They make bail, and go back to their apartment. On the door to welcome them home is an eviction notice.

    So now the accused is supposed to prep for a criminal trial, deal with eviction proceedings, and (potentially) asset forfeiture proceedings. So, when will the first instance of “take the plea deal, and we’ll drop the eviction proceedings so your SO and kids have a place to live” occur?

    1. I’d imagine that it would also be hard to get bail set if you no longer had a legal residence.

      “Your honor, this man has no known address. Well he did, but we threw his ass (or I guess his stuff since he was locked up) out last night.”

  12. An individual need not be convicted or even charged with prostitution to trigger eviction

    It’s not as if the property belongs to the landlord, of course…

    Still, this is a precautionary tale about how government sets itself to right perceived wrongs that did not exist. The city government first froze rental property rates as landlords were being accused of evicting poor, defenseless women and children, which actually encouraged squatting, and now the city passes a new rule that allows rental property owners to evict people by accusing them of being whores or sluts. It can’t get more surreal than this, people.

    1. Yeah, it’s not like a contract is being arbitrarily broken.

      1. But arbitrary power is the best kind of power!

        1. You are technically correct, sir.

          1. Guards! Bring me the forms I need to fill out to have this man taken away!

            1. Did you file a proper form request form?

            2. Does it matter if it’s Buttle or Tuttle?

              1. Yes. Because if the form was file for the wrong person, the form filer must be punished for improper processing.

    2. It can’t?
      I find your confidence as amusing as your naivety.

  13. See what happens when you give those patriarchal teathuglican soconz power? They just can’t keep their laws out of, hey wait …

  14. I’m surprised tulpa’s not here asserting that it’s better to have top. men. in control of these issues because individual control of property is like lynching.

  15. OT:…..ordinances

    HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania House’s passage Monday of a controversial bill granting legal standing to the National Rifle Association to sue over local gun laws has put dozens of municipalities on notice.

    1. The legislation, amended to a bill involving the theft of metal, would broaden the definition of “standing” to include “membership organizations” such as the NRA.


      While I have no problem with the law as written, the procedure used is abominable. How does that have anything to do with metal theft? What? Would it die in comittee if put up on its own?

  16. So all the whores on the city council are getting evicted?

    1. No, just the honest whores.

  17. Alt-text also evicted.

  18. Barbara Parker: yet another Harvard grad who is the fucking definition of confused authoritarian Progressivism fighting for the empowerment of women by utilizing ‘loving’ government to destroy free market livelihoods that help pay an honest woman’s rent.

  19. Without a conviction, it’s a violation of the Fifth Amendment.

  20. I assume there are services that will get your tenants evicted as prostitutes if the landlord pays a fee.

    1. It says right in the blog entry that that can be done if the landlord pays the city att’y.

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