But once her landlord went into foreclosure and a bank took over ownership of the duplex in which she lives, a loss of utilities was one of the things Isaac-Ray had to deal with. Luckily she convinced the East Bay Municipal Utility District to turn her water back on after one day.
Ida Hancox and her family weren't as lucky. They went three days without water in their foreclosed apartment. The landlord was responsible for paying utilities, according to Hancox's lease. But the landlord disappeared after going into foreclosure, and the bank that now owns the property stopped paying utilities.
"Tenants should not suffer because of someone else's mistake," Hancox told the board of directors of EBMUD at a meeting Tuesday afternoon.
EBMUD, acknowledging a soaring number of foreclosures on apartment buildings and leased houses, agreed Tuesday to a moratorium on water utility shutoffs in any situation where a tenant is left in a foreclosed building. The moratorium lasts until March 11, when the EBMUD board hopes to vote on proposed policy changes to deal with foreclosures and utility shutoffs, including changes suggested by Just Cause Oakland, a citizen tenant group.
The group wants a moratorium on the shutoffs and proposes that banks or new owners of foreclosed properties be required to pay for the utilities.
Just Cause said 22 percent of the foreclosures in Oakland are in tenant-occupied buildings. Very often, banks taking over foreclosed buildings have tried to get tenants to move out, sometimes issuing eviction notices. But change of building ownership or foreclosure are not legal reasons for eviction under Oakland City Ordinance Measure EE, sometimes called the Just Cause ordinance.
According to the Oakland City Attorney's office, ACORN and Just Cause, rent paying tenants who abide by the terms of their leases are becoming victims of the foreclosure crisis when their landlords default on loans.
Utility shutoffs are one common problem, along with illegal eviction notices.
EBMUD service terminations have soared from 330 in Oakland two years ago to 541 service terminations in 2007. While they cannot all be traced to foreclosures, Just Cause and some EBMUD board members said they suspected the foreclosure crisis accounts for much of the increase. They also seemed eager to find a solution to tenants' problems.
Board member Frank Mellon of EBMUD District 7 asked fellow board members whether they could investigate the possibility of putting liens on the banks that stop paying utilities on buildings they manage. He said he read that had been done in other cities.
Board president Lesa McIntosh who pushed for the temporary moratorium promised that the board would vote on Just Cause's proposals at the next meeting when they have a full quorum.
Contact Barbara Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-208-6427.