Oakland families say they're facing 100% rent increases

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Several families in East Oakland say they're facing rent increases of 100 percent. While the landlord says he wants to bring their rents up to market value, others believe this points to the need for stricter rent control laws. Negotiations with the landlord, a tenant rights group, and Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta are ongoing. But as 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney reports, it appears that for now, they've reached a stalemate.

Scared and outraged tenants are prepared to occupy the office of their landlord Steve Kalmbach. They marched several weeks ago to his office where he runs a home building company in Pleasanton.

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The protesters were greeted by a stunned employee who said, "Hey, are you serious right now?" As marchers made their way through the front door.

Before long, about two dozen protesters stormed the lobby and demanded to speak to their landlord. Then police arrived and the demonstrators, lead by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, agreed to move outside.

They chanted: "What do we want? Affordable housing! When do we want it? Now!"

Jorge Rojas' rent went from $1,100 to $2,300 a month.

He's refused to pay the increase.

The landlord's attorney sent him a letter stating "legal proceedings may ensue."

"I feel like he's being greedy with us because he should sit down to the table with us," said Rojas.

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Kalmbach declined 7 On Your Side's request for an interview, but by email told us he has only given the tenants nominal rent increases over 10 years.

He believes the rent he is asking for brings it up to true market value.

Bonta has asked Kalmbach to negotiate with the tenants.

"There needs to be some sort of accommodation and thought for the human impact, and a willingness to work together," said Bonta.
Kalmbach confirmed he reached deals with two tenants for $1,600 a month, but has begun eviction proceedings on one because an unauthorized tenant is living in the garage.

The tenant says he had permission from the property manager, which Kalmbach disputes.

Under current state law known as Costa Hawkins, all single family homes and any rental units built after 1995 are exempt from rent control.

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Bonta proposed a new bill to change that.

It must pass out of committee by the end of January, but landlords are against it.

"It's going to seriously affect our ability to offer properties, and of course a decrease in supply affects tenants," said Noni Richen of Small Property Owners of San Francisco.

Tenant groups have launched a petition drive to put rent control on the state ballot in 2018.

"There's been a movement, a tenant movement that emerges mainly as a consequence of these extreme rent increases, like we're discussing," said Justin Tombolesi of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

We'll stay on top of this story and update it as developments warrant. If the tenant groups get their referendum on the ballot, you'll be hearing a lot more about Costa Hawkins.

Click here for more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

Written and produced by Randall Yip
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