Even the most well-intentioned Oakland landlords and property managers sometimes find themselves squaring off with residents before the RAP Board, the authority that oversees the City of Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Program. There is no need to panic. The RAP Board is intended to mitigate landlord-tenant disputes fairly, efficiently and in accordance with the RAP guidelines. In fact, landlords and Oakland property management companies who carefully follow RAP regulations will find the process relatively straightforward.
Below is a primer for Oakland landlords and Oakland property managers regarding the RAP petition process, including what to expect if a resident files a petition with the RAP Board.
Reasons for Tenant Petitions
Anyone living in a rent-controlled unit may file a petition with the RAP for any of the following five reasons:
- A rent increase exceeds the annual CPI Rent Adjustment maximum, including, but not limited to when:
- The Oakland property owner failed to give the tenant a written summary of the basis for a rent increase in excess of the CPI rent adjustment as required by law.
- The owner or Oakland property management company failed to give the tenant proper notice of the contested rent increase.
- The Oakland property manager or owner decreased housing services to the tenant.
- The owner has failed to remedy serious health, safety, fire or building code violations.
- The Oakland rental property owner failed to reduce rent on the month following the expiration of the amortization period for capital improvements.
- A tenant claims relocation restitution.
- The petition is permitted by the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance.
- The petition is permitted by the Ellis Act Ordinance.
- The tenant contests the unit’s coverage under the Rent Adjustment Program.
Understandably, the majority of tenant petitions are filed under the first category.
In order to contest a rent increase, the tenant must be filed within 90 days from the date the owner serves notice of the rent increase provided the owner also gave notice to the RAP as required by law. If the owner did not give notice to the RAP, the tenant has 120 days to file a petition.
Petitions claiming decreased housing services must be filed within 90 days of the tenant becoming aware of the decreased housing service (e.g., removal of a parking space or requirement that the tenant pay utilities previously paid by the owner). If the decreased housing is ongoing (e.g., a leaking roof), the tenant may file a petition at any point but is limited in restitution for 90 days before the petition is filed and to the period of time when the Oakland rental property owner knew or should have known about the decreased housing service.
Responding to a Tenant Petition
Once a tenant has filed a petition with the RAP, someone from the Rent Adjustment staff will notify the landlord and/or Oakland property management company of the complaint. A copy of the original petition will be included with that notice.
Oakland landlords have 30 days from the date of the notice to file a response with the RAP. The RAP will send a copy of that response to the tenant.
Tenants and landlords are both asked whether they’d be willing to pursue mediation in lieu of appearing before a RAP Hearing Officer. If both parties agree, the RAP will assign a mediator to the case. The parties can choose to use an outside mediator but they will be responsible for covering those costs. If a resolution can be agreed to through mediation, both parties sign a binding agreement and the case is closed.
If a resolution is not reached, or if one of the parties is unwilling to pursue mediation, the petition will be heard by a RAP Hearing Officer. Both the tenant and Oakland property owner can submit documents supporting their case to the RAP up until seven calendar days before the scheduled hearing date. Documents can be submitted either online or in person.
What to Expect at the RAP Hearing
On the day of the hearing, both parties are expected to report to the Rent Adjustment Office at 250 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Suite 5313 to present their case before a RAP Hearing Officer. Most hearings begin promptly at 10am.
The Hearing Officer will review the rules and process of the hearing, followed by a roll call to account for everyone in attendance. Both parties will then be given time to present their documents to the Hearing Officer to prove their side of the dispute. After each side has presented its case, the opposing party will have an opportunity to ask questions (otherwise known as “cross-examine”). Just like the court cases shown on TV, each party will be given the chance to recite a closing statement.
After closing statements, the hearing is adjourned. The Hearing Officer does not make a decision that day. It usually takes 30 days for a written decision to be made, which is then mailed to the tenant and landlord or Oakland property manager.
The Appeal Process
There is an appeal process for anyone who disagrees with the RAP’s verdict. The appeal must be filed within 20 calendar days from when the written decision was mailed. The application must cite all of the reasons for the appeal. Evidence is capped at 25 pages. The appeal and all attachments must be filed with the RAP and a copy must be sent with proof of service to the opposing party.
During the appeal process, the decision by the RAP Hearing Officer is suspended until the appeal process is complete.
Both parties have until the 9th calendar day before the appeal hearing date to submit documents or evidence for the RAP Board’s consideration.
A RAP Program Analyst, Program Manager and Hearing Officer will review all documents submitted by either party. Only information contained in the appeal and the records from the original hearing will be considered. An appeal hearing is then scheduled with the City of Oakland’s Housing Residential Rent and Relocation Board.
On the day of the appeal hearing, the Board will listen to arguments from both parties. The Board will then deliberate publically, vote, and will announce their decision at the meeting. A written decision will follow, confirming the facts of the case and the Board’s decision. The appeal decision becomes the final decision of the RAP and by extension, the final decision by the City of Oakland.
Any residents, landlords or Oakland property management companies wishing to appeal the decision further will have to seek relief through the Superior Court.
The City of Oakland has put together this handy infographic to help guide Oakland rental property owners through every step of the petition process.
As always, this is just intended to be an overview. If you have additional questions, contact the Oakland RAP or consult with your real estate attorney for specific advice.