Oakland adopted San Francisco-style relocation payouts for no-fault evictions, but the couple above fought it in court. They did not win.
Back in January 2018, the city of Oakland passed a Uniform Relocation Ordinance that, in plain English, is essentially the same tenant payout for a no-fault eviction that’s been on the books for years in San Francisco and Berkeley. That law was challenged in court by Oakland couple Lyndsey and Sharon Ballinger, who argued that being forced to pay $6,582.40 just to move back into a house they already owned was an unconstitutional seizure of property. U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. did not agree, and as the East Bay Times reports, dismissed their lawsuit and upheld the $6,500-ish relocation fee.
“The Court finds that the Ballingers have failed to plead a cognizable legal theory on any of their constitutional challenges to the Ordinance and thus grants the motion to dismiss,” Judge Gilliam wrote in his ruling. “Of course, in granting this motion, the Court does not opine on the wisdom or the effectiveness of the Ordinance in alleviating what is undoubtedly a housing crisis in the Bay Area.”
The Ballingers are not your typical greedy landlord stereotypes; both were enlisted in the Air Force in 2015 when transferred to Washington, D.C. They kept ownership of their East Bay home but rented it out to tenants, and during that period, Oakland passed its relocation fee measure. They were reassigned back to Oakland in March 2018 and promptly gave their tenants notice of an owner move-in, only to make the unpleasant discovery that evicting tenants from a three-bedroom home now came with a $10,811 price tag (but in their case lower, because the tenants had been there less than two years).
The Ballingers’ attorneys cited the Fifth Amendment (which is not just for refusing to answer questions in court!), saying this represented illegal government seizure of property. Judge Gilliam found this something of a stretch.
“The [Oakland] City Council’s legislative purpose, to promote community stability and help tenants avoid displacement and high moving costs, was a legitimate one,” he wrote.
The Ballinger’s attorneys insist they will appeal, which makes you wonder whether the couple will end up paying far more than the $6,500 just in legal fees. And maybe they will, or maybe they won’t. They’re represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian anti-affirmative action and union-busting firm funded by ultraconservative donors. If their appeal is successful, it could overturn San Francisco’s tenant relocation fee law, as well as many others across the state.
In other words, these attorneys are probably after more than just a $6,500 refund for the nice Air Force couple.
Image: Pacific Legal Foundation