Alameda sues Marina owner for allegedly flouting 'Draconian' rental laws

A community of houseboat residents in Alameda is getting some legal help from the city over an ongoing dispute with their landlord.

The city of Alameda is taking legal action against the owner of the Barnhill Marina, for alleged violations and what it deems as "Draconian" rent hikes. 

The Barnhill Marina has 42 floating homes and a dozen live-aboard sailboats along the Alameda side of the Oakland Estuary.

 "Most of us have been here for a long time and are kind of older, and living on a fixed income," said Sandy Privett, a houseboat owner.

Privett has lived in her floating house with the red trim for 50 years. She and other houseboat owners pay rent to the owner of the marina for docking and utilities.

Three years ago, a new landlord, an LLC named Valley Investments Redwoods, acquired the marina. 

Privett noted, "He started immediately with some demands that we weren't expecting," such as doubling the rent.

Privett's $500 monthly boat slip rent doubled to $1,000, causing financial strain. 

"It's difficult for anyone to come up with something that's double what they were paying before," she said. "When something like that happens, it does make you feel really insecure about your major investment, your home, and your life."

Such rent hikes violate local and state laws, which limit increases to no more than an average of 3-3.5% percent annually. 

Those rental laws apply to boat slips under California's "Floating Home Residency Law", passed in the state legislature in response to this specific dispute in Alameda, back in 2022.

Alameda City Attorney Yibin Shen condemned the actions, citing "exorbitant rent increases, as much as 178 percent." 

The city fined the owner $120,000 for violations, but the owner never paid, and never lowered the rent. 

The owner of the company tried to sue the City of Alameda for "unfair rental laws" in 2022, but lost the suit. 

In that lawsuit against the City of Alameda, attorneys for Valley Investments Redwoods said that before the change in ownership, "The berthing fees averaged $574 and were approximately 60-71% below market rate. The prior owners were able to keep these low rates because they did not adequately maintain the premises, failed to procure flood insurance, enjoyed lower property tax obligations, and did not have the same debt service obligations."

Now, the city, along with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, is suing the property owner to get it to comply with the law and pay the fines. According to the lawsuit, the owner is now prohibiting houseboat owners from transferring boat slips to new owners unless the new owners agree to 178% rent increases. That means houseboat owners can't sell their homes if they decide to leave.

"The owner basically has said to the tenants, 'accept double, triple rent increases, or I will not allow you to transfer your property.' We find it to be incredibly egregious and this is why we've brought the action," said Shen.

Efforts to reach the property owner's attorneys for comment are ongoing. Valley Investments Redwoods, LLC is based in Sacramento, but does not have a business website or listed email or phone number. 

KTVU contacted the attorneys who represented the property owner in its failed 2022 lawsuit against the City of Alameda for comment on this new legal action and has not heard back from them.