Council okays new rules on rents committee

Council okays new rules on rents committee

Dave Boitano
Alameda City Council

With the Bay Area’s housing crisis in the backdrop, the City Council on Tuesday took a small step toward giving tenants a way to combat rising rents.

By a unanimous vote, the council gave its initial approval to an ordinance that would require landlords to take part in hearings conducted by the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee.

The committee's members mediate tenant landlord disputes over rent increases. But its recommendations are not binding, and renters have complained that the committee procedures are essentially unenforceable.

The council also agreed to undertake a formal study of what some are calling a local housing crisis.

Council members also revised the ordinance to also include tenants renting only a room in a home.

Rather than appoint a city-sponsored task force that would hold hearings and make recommendations on a rent ordinance, the council settled on a facilitated process in which a community group came up with a series of discussion points that tenants and landlords agreed on.

Rents throughout the Bay Area have skyrocketed in the past three years due to an influx of highly paid tech workers and limited housing stock. Alameda tenants have complained about double digit rent hikes.

But if tenants were hoping for an ordinance with teeth, they may have been a little disappointed.

Under the city's new rules, landlords must inform tenants of their right to a hearing when they send a notice of a rent increase. If the property owner or his designee does not show up to the hearing, the disputed rent increase will be void and cannot be imposed for at least a year.

The city will rely on the courts to enforce the law.

Failure to comply with the notice or hearing requirements can only be used as a defense by tenants when contesting a subsequent eviction for failure to pay the increased rent in court. But there's no guarantee a favorable ruling, but courts frequently look to local ordinances when deciding such cases, said Community Development Director Debbie Potter.

Alameda renter Anette Zielinski sought the local rent committee’s help when her rent was raised by 20 percent, she said. Though the committee agreed that a 10 percent hike was reasonable, her landlord insisted that she pay the full increase.

Zielinski said she is considering moving or Oregon, because her modest salary increase does not offset the substantial rent hike.

“They (committee) can make a recommendation, but if the landlord won’t follow it, where does it leave someone like me?” she asked.

Some tenants, like resident Barbara Duncan, suggested more direct action, like rent control.

“You are the council. You were put up there by the people. Now we feel you should act for the people," she said. “One way or the other, you should think about the people who cannot afford this rent increase.”

Other tenant advocates suggested mandatory code inspections on properties where rents are being raised, a moratorium on rent hikes, financial assistance for those forced to move and full reimbursement of security deposits.

Final approval of the new rules is pending.

Comments

Submitted by Natalie Gelman on Wed, Jul 22, 2015

Thank you for continuing to be dedicated to covering the rent subject. It is upsetting to hear the number of people with increases they cannot afford. And the prospect of eviction without having to show cause is very threatening.

Submitted by Sylvia Gibson on Wed, Jul 22, 2015

Thanks for covering this. Some landlords in Alameda (like my parents, Janet and Ed Gibson) rent their units at below market value. I'd like to see the city honor landlords who voluntarily keep their rents affordable for working families and retirees. Maybe a party at Rockwall to honor these champions of community ?