Smith v. City of Oakland

Scroll to case documents Date Filed: 08/28/2019 Status:

Image: Fox Oakland Theater via Flickr

Oakland renters who need to live in accessible units are either shut out of the City’s rent control protections entirely, or forced to live in inaccessible units. If you are in either situation, we want to hear from you: contact us at 510-529-3491 or

On August 28, 2019, DRA and the Public Interest Law Project (PILP) filed a class action lawsuit alleging that people with disabilities are discriminatorily excluded from Oakland’s rent stabilization program, colloquially known as “rent control.” People with disabilities who need accessible housing are uniquely barred from the protections that this program provides, because it exempts everything constructed after January 1, 1983 from its coverage, and nearly every accessible rental unit in Oakland was built after that date.

To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Oakland must modify its rent stabilization program so that people who need accessible housing can access the same protections that the city affords to its nondisabled renters, on the same terms. And, because the requirements the federal ADA supersede conflicting provisions of state and local law, these necessary changes must be made even if California’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act—which imposes limitations on local rent control—would not otherwise allow them.

The lawsuit was filed by on behalf of three individuals with disabilities and a proposed class of all other Oakland renters with disabilities who need accessible housing.

This lawsuit comes at a dire time for Oakland renters. The average rent for a vacant unit in Oakland has almost doubled over the past decade, and in the past year alone the median asking price for a one-bedroom apartment has increased by nearly 13%. By setting a limit on allowable rent increases in the units that it covers, the city’s rent stabilization program provides a majority of the city’s renters with some protection from these increases. However, because they are denied the protections of Oakland’s rent stabilization program, people with disabilities who need accessible housing are especially susceptible to the city’s skyrocketing rents.

On April 2, 2020, Judge Tigar denied Oakland’s motion to dismiss this case, holding that being shut out of the City’s rent control Program entirely, or utilizing it only at the cost enduring daily access barriers, does not amount to the “full and equal enjoyment” that the ADA guarantees.

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