On October 21st the Oakland City Counsel quietly passed amendments to the Nuisance Eviction Ordinance requiring landlords to evict sex workers from the properties. Overshadowed by the passage of the Tenant Protection Ordinance, which aims to protect tenants against rent hikes, the amendment requiring the eviction of sex workers only came to light when journalist Susie Cagle tweeted about it.
The Nuisance Eviction Ordinance (NEO), which was enacted in 2004, gives the City Attorney’s Office the power to require landlords to evict tenants facing drugs or weapons charges. On October 21st, this was expanded to include “prostitution-related crimes,” gambling, and the possession of certain ammunition. The law, which was written by City Attorney Barbara Parker, does not specify that a tenant must be convicted, rather than merely accused, of a prostitution-related offense. It is essentially left up to the discretion of city officials to determine who is a sex worker.
At The Atlantic, Kriston Capps writes: “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. Nor does the bill stipulate how or whether this evidence (presuming some is required) is to be shared with the tenant.
“In fact—when it comes to sex work, at least—a tenant does not need to have committed any crime to be evicted for that crime. "The crime solicited need not actually be committed for solicitation to occur," the amended bill now reads.”
Kate Conger of the SF Weekly reports that the new amendments target people working in the sex trades more harshly than those who gamble or possess ammunition. “Among the reasons the city can force a tenant’s eviction are “making contacts on the premises with ‘Johns’ and prostitutes for prostitution activity off-premises” and “keeping profits on the premises from off-premises from [sic] acts of prostitution.”” Writes Conger. “However, the law does not state that calling someone to arrange a gambling session or keeping gambling profits at home are grounds for an eviction.”
Red Light Legal, a newly established Bay Area advocacy organisation that will provide direct legal services, legal representation, and policy advocacy to sex workers and their communities, published a public statement strongly opposing the passage of the NEO on November 1.
“The NEO threatens the housing stability of people who are already operating at the margins of society,” they wrote. “It will increase the targeted criminalisation of vulnerable populations who face existing profiling and harassment at the hands of an unaccountable police force. The NEO facilitates the gentrification of neighbourhoods that have faced an onslaught of displacement in recent years. Finally, the Ordinance denies due process protections to communities who endure a shocking deficit of existing legal safeguards.”
Red Light Legal plan to be at the Oakland City Counsel meeting this week to voice their opposition to NEO and, they write at their Facebook event page, “participate in a breakout strategy discussion as we build a coalition to see the NEO repealed.”
Red Light Legal will be meeting at 6 pm on Wednesday at Oakland City Hall. Check their event page for updates.
Please sign the petition to tell the Oakland City Council to repeal this ordinance: Don't force landlords to evict sex workers!
Regional Correspondent: North America and the Caribbean