Assemblymember Rob Bonta, left, and Alameda
Councilmember Malia Vella, right, listen to
concerns Friday from tenants at the Bay View Apts.
“Everyday I open my door to check and see if there’s a eviction notice,” said Alameda renter Julia Balthasar. Just five days before Christmas, Balthasar found an unwanted holiday delivery–a 60-day eviction notice affixed to her front door, right next to a picture of Christmas tree she had placed there to celebrate the season.
Two other tenants at the infamous Bay View Apartments at 470 Central Avenue also received notices to evict last Wednesday. Over the past two years, the apartment building has become both the epicenter and symbol of Alameda’s continuing housing crisis.
Alameda Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella, along with Assemblymember Rob Bonta met with 470 Central residents early Friday evening to discuss the latest action. Foremost in their minds was the timing of the notices.
“This is unfucking-believable,” said Oddie. “Who does this five days before Christmas?”
The owner of the apartment building, Matt Sridhar, said, “Any attempt to characterize a two-year legal battle as an immediate eviction during the holidays is simply untrue.” He added the group of tenants had “evaded eviction for two years under numerous delay tactics and aided by the City of Alameda.”
Under the notices, the tenants are required to leave their units by Feb. 20, but Sridhar is cynical about the likelihood they will leave by then. “Instead they will hire a nonprofit attorney to oppose the eviction on meritless grounds and will likely stay an additional 2-6 months, if not longer,” he said. “All the while they will attempt to extort the ownership for outrageous sums of money in order to move sooner.”
Since November 2015, tenants at the apartment building have faced several waves of eviction notices from Sridhar and his San Jose-based equity firm. The initial attempt to evict the entire building was a large factor in the city placing a moratorium on evictions, and then, later, approving a rent stabilization ordinance in March 2016.
Last Wednesday’s order is legal under the current ordinance. Landlords who plan capital improvements to their properties are allowed to evict up to 10 percent of the total number of units within a 12-month period.
The Alameda City Council last June, however, amended the rent ordinance to include just cause protections for renters. In other words, the addition prohibits landlords from evicting tenants without a specific reason. Alameda landlords responded by quickly mobilizing and then successfully qualified a ballot measure for next year to overturn the decision. But rather than fight a costly campaign, the council rescinded the amendment last summer.
“If there was just cause evictions this wouldn’t be happening,” said Oddie.
In addition to Balthasar, another family learned of their eviction notice just as they were leaving for Christmas vacation with family in the Philippines. Tenants told elected officials Friday that they fear further rounds of evictions are inevitable. Some urged for an emergency moratorium on evictions. Support on the council for such an action, though, may be difficult achieve. Four votes out of five are needed for a moratorium, while only two, possibly three, councilmembers have typically supported the cause of Alameda renters in the past.
Bay View tenants, though, still believe City Hall is their best ally to fend off their landlord. “He wants to hit us hard,” said a 470 Central tenant, who did not want to be identified out of fear of retribution from the landlord. “The laws and ordinances passed by the city is the only reason we are still here.”