“We worked hard to achieve our American Dream, and now it seems like the government has stolen it from us.”
— Sheanna Rogers
When Sheanna and Karl Rogers learned an acquaintance needed a place to stay, they had the perfect answer: a studio rental apartment. It was a bonus living space in their Alameda County, California, home where they also ran a small residential facility for the mentally disabled.
“It was supposed to be temporary, until he could land on his feet,” says Sheanna. “But temporary turned into a nightmare.”
The renter trampled the couple’s kindness with a reign of terror that drove them out of business. The government then trampled their property rights with an eviction ban that allowed the tenant to live there rent-free—indefinitely.
The Rogerses bought the home as young newlyweds. They later bought a second home and kept the first as a rental property until 2010, when the Toyota plant where Karl worked shut down. Out of work in a bleak economy, Karl converted the rental home into a three-bedroom care facility for people with mental illness.
“The passion comes from my husband’s heart. His brother has schizophrenia,” explains Sheanna. “Helping this vulnerable population by providing a safe living space and meals they could count on became his job and his baby.”
The couple worked with a county agency to house and care for clients, feeling blessed that their small business could help mentally ill citizens navigate life and ease homelessness.
“These are huge problems in my community that I care about deeply,” says Sheanna. “I was born in Oakland, California, and I have been a part of this community my entire life.”
Sheanna thought nothing of leasing the studio apartment. It has its own entrance, is separate from the care facility, and the extra income would help support their business and family.
The renter moved into the unit in 2018. After several peaceful months, his behavior abruptly changed. He began throwing garbage in front of the house and screaming profanities at the Rogerses’ clients. The violence escalated in January 2019, when the renter beat a client with a crowbar and was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. Upon his release a few days later, Sheanna started the eviction process; she had to protect her clients, their case workers, and her property.
A year later, in February 2020, the court finally responded to Sheanna’s persistence and issued an eviction order for the renter to vacate the property within two months, by April 1.
Move-out day never arrived. In March 2020, as COVID-19 picked up steam, Alameda County and the City of Oakland enacted sweeping eviction bans to prevent rental property owners from evicting renters who refuses to pay rent—even if they can pay and regardless of any pandemic-related financial distress.
For the next 18 months, the renter neither budged from the property nor paid rent. Not even a restraining order, arrests for violating the restraining order and probation, or an 85-page police file could crack the eviction ban’s ironclad protection of this scofflaw tenant.
Sheanna and Karl watched helplessly as their occupant bullied and intimidated their clients. By September 2021, they had enough. With no expiration date for the eviction bans and no legal recourse for the harassment, they closed the facility and shut down their business.
“We were single-handedly shut down by a tenant who hasn’t paid us rent in three years,”
Sheanna says. “Plus, he receives social security. He bought a boat and a car. He moved his son in with him. Yet he’s living on our property for free.”
Meanwhile, she adds, “We have had to borrow money to pay for the mortgage, electricity, water, and garbage—all of which he uses for free.”
The Rogerses are far from alone. This reality hit home for Sheanna at an Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting in July 2022 that was jam-packed with small-scale landlords urging their elected representatives to amend the eviction ban so they could at least deal with renters whose problems pre-date the pandemic. But as one property owner after another told their heartbreaking stories, Sheanna knew the board would not budge either.
“I started thinking to myself, ‘Is there not one person who sits on this board who owns a property?’” muses Sheanna.
“The way these eviction bans work is brutal,” explains PLF attorney Jonathan Houghton. “Renters can refuse to pay rent. They can engage in criminal conduct. They can have a meth lab and nothing can be done to evict them. If Sheanna were to lose her home in a bank foreclosure, the bank can’t get her renter out either. Nobody can.”
“I can’t get him out of my house and I own the house,” says Sheanna.
“It’s been said that the American Dream is almost impossible for many black people, period. Well, we worked hard to achieve our American Dream and now it seems like the government has stolen it from us.”
Eviction bans are not only unfair, they’re also immoral. The government shouldn’t favor occupants over owners and force property owners to bear the full cost of that preference.
Furthermore, entitling someone to live on another person’s property irrespective of bad or unlawful actions is no different from a government physically invading and occupying the property. And it’s just as unconstitutional. The Takings Clause protects the right to possess what you own. Broad eviction bans unlawfully transfer that right from owners to the government and, in turn, to renters.
Represented at no charge by PLF, Sheanna, along with five other rental property owners and the nonprofit Housing Providers of America, are challenging eviction bans in a federal lawsuit. A win will restore their right to reclaim their property from government-sanctioned squatters and end what Sheanna and Karl call “an emotional and financial disaster.”
“I never thought something like this could ever be allowed. Not for taxpayers who are productive members of society and who are always there for our community,” she says. “It’s unjust.”
The right to possess and use private property is a fundamental right of all Americans, protected by the Constitution. The government cannot enact regulations that confer this right from property owners to itself or to other people without paying for it.
To Our Donors
Rental housing providers have the same rights as any other property owner and operate like any other business. Trampling their right to evict bad renters is immoral and unconstitutional. When you invest in PLF, you give help and hope to Sheanna Rogers and all landlords to fight back against lawless, no-fault eviction bans and restore their property rights. Thank you!Donate
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