Plan protects renters facing foreclosure


City officials say it is an all too common problem and many renters do not even learn about the fate of their buildings until it is too late.

Tina Marie Williams lived in her Oakland apartment for two weeks with no power or water. The utilities were shut off because the landlord stopped paying the bills when the property went into foreclosure.

The water went first.

"I had an electric stove so I was able to boil water as if I was back in the olden days," says Williams.

Then the electricity went.

But now Oakland's city government is stepping in to protect tenants like Williams.

City Attorney John Russo signed a declaration that makes shutting off water or power in foreclosed rental properties a threat to public health. That means under state law utility companies would have to wait 120 days before flipping the switch on renters.

"This loss of water and power forces tenants to live in inhumane and unsafe conditions, and especially at this time of the year, represents an immediate and dangerous threat to the health and safety of Oakland," Russo said.

Oakland has been hit hard by the nation's foreclosure crises, with as many as 15,000 foreclosure filings just in recent months. And, city officials say they have heard of hundreds of cases where renters had their utilities shut off because their landlord could not make the payments.

Marta Angelica is among them. The Oakland apartment where she and her children live is in foreclosure. The power here has been shut off four times in as many months.

PG&E says it will comply with Oakland's order.

"We're caught in between a landlord that may have defaulted on a particular loan and the tenants," said PG&E spokesman Tom Guarino.

PG&E says it will postpone shutting off tenants' power, but officials from the water company East Bay Mud, said Monday they will have to wait and see.

They plan to discuss the city attorney's declaration during the agency's next meeting in January.

If you are having trouble paying utility bills there is help out there. You can reach the United Way hotline in most of the Bay Area by calling 2-1-1 or 1-800-273-6222.

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