Oakland law requiring landlords to pay evicted tenants’ relocation expenses survives Supreme Court review

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge Monday to an Oakland ordinance requiring property owners who evict tenants at the end of a lease to pay their relocation expenses.

The 2018 law is similar to ordinances in San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. When renters are being evicted through no fault of their own — for example, when the owner decides to move in or convert the property to a condominium — they must be compensated for costs of finding and moving into a new home. The payments are based on the size of the unit and other factors such as the renters’ family size, age and income.

The ordinance was challenged by property-rights advocates on behalf of Lyndsey and Sharon Ballinger, an Air Force couple who leased their home to another family during an assignment on the East Coast, then retook the property when they were reassigned to Oakland in 2018. After paying the family $6,582 in relocation costs, the Ballingers sued the city, saying they were being penalized for exercising the right to regain their property.

But a federal judge and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Oakland was not confiscating the Ballingers’ property but merely regulating the owners’ use of their land, just as a city can limit the rents owners can charge.

“The Ballingers voluntarily chose to lease their property and to ‘evict’ under the ordinance — conduct that required them to pay the relocation fee,” Judge Ryan Nelson, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, said in the Ninth Circuit’s 3-0 ruling Feb. 1.

He said the Supreme Court has upheld the government’s authority to impose property-related fees, such as property taxes, and fees related to an owner’s use of the property, like the costs of cleaning up hazardous wastes.