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Evictions, A Cause for Intervention

A band of Oaklanders targeting greedy landlords take their battles out of the courtrooms and into the streets
Evictions, A Cause for Intervention

By Lynda Carson 9/21/02

Oakland Ca-In a time of forced relocations of the poor out of Oakland, a little known group continues to forge it's way into the hearts and minds of Oakland renters. Campaign for Renters Rights, a small obscure group of dedicated volunteers have successfully been fighting against evictions out in the streets with interventions and direct action, rather than in the stuffy court rooms of a rigged system.

Case in point. Lorraine Key, a 73 year old Oakland resident recently faced eviction after 36 years residency in the same apartment unit, and decided to fight for her right to stay where she was. Ms. Key was sharp enough to hire attorneys of the Eviction Defense Center to help fight her battle and then she turned to the Campaign for Renters Rights (CRR), to take her battle to the streets. In short order, the landlord gave in and dropped the eviction after a few members of the CRR made contact with him. Case dismissed, and the eviction never made it to the courts. Ms. Key now is an active member of the CRR, helping others to fight their battles against greedy landlords.

During the past few years, Oakland resident Malika Nassarrudin a mother of two, called upon the CRR to join her in a battle to fight several eviction attempts made against her. In both cases, the fight against the evictions were a success, and neither move to evict her and her family ever made it out of the courts and into the Sheriffs Department. During her latest battle, CRR members quietly slipped into a large three story Albany office building owned by her landlord and armed with a bullhorn they threatened to roam the halls knocking on doors to alert all their clients about the plight of the tenant being evicted. The Albany Police showed up, but by then the action was over. The stunned agent for the landlord had already signed a statement to drop the eviction, and even apologized in writing to the tenant for the inconvenience. Ms. Nassarrudin remains an active member of the CRR, and shows up at the monthly meetings to offer support.

If the CRR monthly meetings are an indication of it's vibrancy, the ranks of the CRR are growing month by month, with nearly thirty five to forty people showing up at their last meeting. More and more victims of the landlords seek the CRR for help as part of their strategy to fight their battles against evictions, and they in turn help others to fight their evictions with a form of intervention and direct action. Oakland landlords have not yet grasped the significance of what occurs here. Victims of the landlords are uniting and learning how to fight back before their eviction case hits the courts.

Wealthy landlord Bruce Millar of Diablo, California, is one of the latest to find the CRR in fifteen of his properties leaving flyers and organizing his tenants against the eviction of long term renter Doris Stancil. In addition, on the first aniversary date of 9/11, a very paranoid day for Americans, CRR members were recently chased out of Millars hood in Diablo, Ca, by a Lieutenant, R. Ernest Templeton of the Contra Costa County Sheriffs Department as they were heading palace to palace with flyers to expose Millars attempt to profit by evicting Ms. Stancil. The CRR members were at first accused of soliciting by Officer Templeton until he read the flyer, then he suddenly claimed the CRR members were breaking the law by trespassing onto private property, and that he has been receiving complaints.

Indeed, to defend Ms. Stancil the members of the CRR risked arrest by heading onto the Private Country Club of Millar and his wealthy neighbors in an effort to keep Ms. Stancil in her home. Only days before that they organized a phone blitz of people to call Millars private home number to ask about the well-being of Ms. Stancil.

Ms. Doris Stancil is an elderly disabled woman residing at 35 Monte Vista Ave, for over 10 years. She has contributed much to the community, and at one time was the Executive Secretary of the East Bay-Rainbow Push Coalition. A good tenant, Doris Stancil was one of many elderly renters who resided at the property when she first moved in to that location. Now, she is one of the last after the rest faced evictions by the hand of Millar.

Recently when seeking repairs from her landlord Bruce Millar for a worn damaged kitchen floor, allegedly he made the comment that she payed "cheap rent" and declined to do repairs. Her rent is $658.00 per month. Soon, Ms. Stancil was led to believe that Mr. Millar wanted to raise the rent to $800.00 per month or more, being way above Oaklands rent cap for annual rent increases. Ms. Stancil then received a 30 Day Notice to move after refusing to pay the illegal rent increase. She then refused to move, choosing to fight the eviction.

During the past few months someone has been poisoning the outdoor plants of Ms. Stancil, and repeatedly calling her only to hang up when she answers the phone. She states that she has never had heat in her apartment because Millar (landlord) fails to repair a leaking gas heater, and now being blacklisted by having an eviction on her record, it is a very grim situation. Ms. Stancil sought the help of the CRR to fight her eviction.

On Sunday, September 15th, numerous members of the CRR joined Doris Stancil for a picket at the entrance of the Private Country Club in Diablo, where her landlord Bruce Millar resides. According to Rob Rooke one of the founders of the CRR, it was a hopeful event since many of Millars neighbors now appeared to be aware of the plight of Doris Stancil. This time two cars from the Sheriffs Department showed up to keep an eye on the members of the CRR.

During recent interviews with Bruce Millar and his wife Sue, it became apparent that they tried their best to conceal their economic motive to evict as they painted an unflattering portrait of Ms. Stancil. When I suggested to Sue Millar that it sounds like she must have known Ms. Stancil for a long time to know her so intimately, I asked her how many times has she hung out with Ms. Stancil. Ms. Millar became outraged at that point, claiming that she has never met Ms. Stancil and could only rely on what her husband had told her. She went on to state that after twenty five years of being landlords, they have never felt so persecuted.

Doris Stancil is still fighting her eviction with the CRR on her side to defend her from losing her home of the last ten years, and another action to leaflet local churches in Diablo about her plight have been planned for the weekend of Sept 21.

Not all landlords take this sort of action lying down. On Febuary 28, 2002 a temporary restraining order was filed against several members of the CRR by a Berkeley non-profit housing provider that was evicting poor people onto the streets in the name of providing housing for substance abusers. The result of the landlords TRO was the use of stay-away orders and personal conduct orders meant to seperate the CRR members from the evicted tenants who sought the help of the CRR. Suddenly the members of the CRR faced contempt of court allegations if they were caught communicating with those that they promised to defend. They fought this battle out in the courts, and quickly learned how devious some of the local Mother Theresa look alikes can actually be. In that case, a judge allowed the CRR members to resume contact with the tenants facing eviction, and shortly thereafter the tenants received a hefty settlement to relocate them from the offending landlord.

Recently, during this past summer of 2002, members of the CRR found themselves in a meeting with Leased Housing Director Joseph Villareal of the Oakland Housing Authority, making arrangements to seek assistance in relocating one of the local Section 8 Renters out of slum conditions that made her very ill from black mold exposure. The Housing Authority was very accomodating in helping the woman out of her plight into a new location after the CRR got their attention.

Back around early 1999 the CRR joined the fight to stop millionaire Andrew Lipnosky from evicting several single mothers who were advised by their attorney's that they had no rights left to them under Oakland rent laws to fight the evictions. They both were packed and ready to go before the Sheriff comes by to evict them, but, still they had a ray of hope to stop the evictions with the members of the CRR at their side. The CRR marched on Lipnosky's house, and the managers house as part of their direct action tactics. They made and submitted a list of demands for a new lease, including new drapes and carpeting for the units of the tenants facing eviction. Suddenly at the last moment the landlord backed down. The result of the CRR direct action, demands, and media campaign to expose Lipnosky's enterprise was to stop the evictions dead in their tracks. As it turned out the manager ran off in fear of exposure because it turned out that he was an escapee from a prison back in 1991. He went back to prison, but until the CRR showed up he spent years as Lipnosky's henchman frightening the tenants and pushing them around.

In another case sometime later in 2000, the CRR joined up with a couple named Margaret and Wally near 35th St, and Market in Oakland to defend them from the "Reverend Slumlord" who got religion when the members of the CRR showed up. The dump was really owned by a local Reverend, who was exploiting the couple. No heat, exposed wiring, slum conditions and an eviction were just a few of the problems heaped upon Margaret and Wally by the Reverend, and reversed by the CRR members.

Presently the CRR has joined all the tenants of 1647 6th Ave, Oakland, to help fight their evictions. The renters allegedly face eviction so that the new owners may replace the hot water heater, and do some minimal re-wiring on an outdoor utility meter. The renters state that the hot water heater has already been replaced around eight months ago, and even if it was to be replaced there is no need to evict the renters who have lived there for years.

Bruce Parker one of the residents facing eviction, states that his mother was forced out of town by greedy landlords in Oakland and after residing for over ten years at the present location, he feels that the same is now happening to himself. Bruce Parker now seeks community support from the CRR to fight his eviction, and his girlfriend Patricia is helping out.

A call to the new owners of the property, Steven H. Williams and Michelle Awai of Oakland, revealed a callousness and lack of understanding to the plight of the tenants they now try to evict. My first call reached Michelle Awai who started laughing when I asked about the evictions. She then tried to convince me that it was all perfectly legal and she quickly hung up on me.

A second call moments later reached Steven H. Williams the husband or partner of Michelle Awai who suddenly claimed that this was harassment and that he did not have to explain his actions to anyone. As if to intimidate me into silence, he asked if I would wish to speak to his attorney. He also quickly hung up on me.

After speaking with Sandra Miguel the mother of two who now faces eviction after residing in the property for more than three years, and eight year resident Maria Rivas also the mother of two children, the desperation of their plight was apparent. Rents are so high, where are they expected to go they both asked? In their attempt to seek community support against the evictions they have been in touch with the Campaign for Renters Rights, and the Eviction Defense Center.

On September 21, 2002, five members of the CRR and Just Cause joined Sandra Miguel and her children in serving her landlord Michelle Awai a 3 Day Notice to rescind the evictions at 1647, 6th ave, or face having the whole neighborhood flooded with flyers exposing the greedy landlords actions. The Oakland Police were called in after landlord Michelle Awai attempted to run over the activists with her car, and a complaint was filed against her.

Interventions and direct action to defend renters from unfair evictions may be the wave of the future if the leaders of this movement have it their way. Even if a Just Cause Anti-Eviction Ordinance comes to pass in Oakland which has been needed for many years, the need for the CRR remains because greed is the evil temptation that landlords could never resist. For now, evictions again are on the rise in Oakland as the Just Cause Anti-Eviction Measure nears the November 5, vote as Prop. EE.

Campaign for Renters Rights may be reached at 510/595-5545

Just Cause may be reached at 510/763-5877

Eviction Defense Center 510/452-4541



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