The Concord City Council will take another crack at drafting an anti-tenant-harassment ordinance after residents and tenants’ rights groups expressed deep disappointment with an existing proposal.

The council was expected to vote on the new rules at its Dec. 14 meeting but instead voted unanimously to send a draft anti-harassment ordinance back to its Housing and Economic Development Committee and directed city staff to work with tenants’ groups on strengthening the proposal.

“I’d like to see the staff go over with the tenants’ groups their detailed issues and then make themselves available to the other side,” said Councilmember Edi Birsan.

The city has been working on the new rules for at least seven months and in the days before Tuesday’s meeting, dozens of community groups and hundreds of individuals had voiced support.

But when the draft ordinance was published last week, that support quickly turned to opposition over what critics decried as the proposal’s weak and ineffectual language.

‘Riddled with loopholes’

Debra Ballinger, executive director of the Concord-based nonprofit Monument Impact, which advocates on behalf of immigrants, refugees and low-income residents, thanked the council for agreeing to rework the ordinance, which she said is “riddled with loopholes.”

She told the council that her organization has seen a sharp increase in the number of calls from tenants about harassment from landlords or property managers and that most of those calls are from women of color.

“This ordinance does not reflect the reality of your most vulnerable residents,” Ballinger said.

Of the roughly 30 members of the public who addressed the council Tuesday, several were Concord renters who described instances of harassment, intimidation and retaliation over things like requested repairs or pandemic-related rent payment delays.

“The community and city should be focused on educating renters on the robust protections already afforded them.”

Rhovy Lyn Antonio, California Apartment Association

Critics of the draft ordinance said it only provides protection from landlords while omitting any mention of property managers, for example, and puts the burden of proof on tenants to prove “willful” wrongdoing.

It also fails to clearly define the kinds of services landlords are required to provide and doesn’t include effective penalties for landlord violations, according to opponents.

While nearly every speaker at Tuesday’s meeting urged the council to strengthen the proposal, a representative from the California Apartment Association said there was a lot of “misinformation” about the proposed new rules in the community.

Existing law already protects renters from harassment and intimidation, said association spokesperson Rhovy Lyn Antonio.

“The community and city should be focused on educating renters on the robust protections already afforded them,” Antonio said.

The council could take up the new anti-harassment proposal as early as February.

Kiley Russell, Bay City News

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.