Renters consider suggestions to change mediation process

Renters consider suggestions to change mediation process

Dave Boitano

Updated at 8:57 a.m. Thursday, January 8

The public got a chance to comment Wednesday night on a list of suggestions to address Alameda’s rising rents, and now it’s up to a group of tenants and landlords to make recommendations to the City Council.

Some of the 50 or so residents who attended the event at Mastick Senior Center assumed some conclusions would be reached at this meeting. But instead of recommendations based on what was presented in prior hearings, community facilitator Jeff Cambra had the group examine six discussion points proposed by the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee, which mediates disputes between tenants and landlords.

The proposals had already been vetted by what was essentially a focus group of housing providers and renters' advocates. Attendees at Wednesday night's meeting were asked if they opposed or supported them.

Wednesday’s straw vote and any additional comment on the proposals will go back to the tenant and landlord groups for further discussion before a final report is given to the council at its January 20 meeting.

Participants supported discussion points that included requiring landlords to notify tenants about their ability to go to the rent commission if rent increases exceed a certain percentage and to act in good faith by sending representatives who can speak for them to the city mediation sessions. Tenants and landlords would also be required to attend scheduled hearings on rent cases; rent increases would be voided if landlords don't appear and cases dismissed for tenants who don't show up.

Other discussion points that the group supported bringing to the council included expedited hearings on rent increase disputes and an automatic determination that evictions based on tenants' appeals to the rent committee would be considered retaliation - a point arguably already addressed by state law.

Participants rejected the suggestion that hearings would not be scheduled before the rent committee for increases that fall below a minimum amount.

The community effort was undertaken after complaints by tenants of large rent increases by some landlords. Council members signed off on a community data gathering effort instead of moving forward with a city-sponsored task force, on a 3-2 vote.

At previous meetings, tenants testified how the Island’s tough housing market has affected them and individual landlords and owners of local property management firms explained the nature of the market and why they believe rent increases are sometime necessary.

Comments

Submitted by renter (not verified) on Thu, Jan 8, 2015

There is one clause in the story that needs further explanation and clarification, specifically this phrase:

"rent increases would be voided if landlords don't appear and cases dismissed for tenants who don't show up"

It is not clear whether this means that the RRAC will now have the teeth to enforce what the phrase recommends -- will the RRAC now be able, by law, to void an increase if the landlord does not show up for the hearing? If so, this is the FIRST time the RRAC has been given any kind of ability to enforce any kind of city statute (that currently does not exist).

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Thu, Jan 8, 2015

Hey renter: That is how I understand the point participants in last night's meeting voted on. Let me check back with the meeting's organizer to see if I can get him to confirm.

Submitted by Alison Greene (not verified) on Thu, Jan 8, 2015

I'm all for a review board that has "teeth" but why does it seem as if, without legal rent price/increase guidelines, failure for either party to show being sole grounds for dismissal (either direction) makes no sense. The actual draft proposal may be more specific, but should consider a review board hearing as a "gateway" to an increase. No increase until the hearing is held, with timeline criteria that prevent tenants from continuously canceling hearings as a means to stop an increase.

I know from experience that nothing is ever simple, and that this is a difficult problem to tackle. My comment is more "musing aloud" than criticism; it takes commitment and passion to take on a community problem and try to help find a solution. All the participants have my respect.

Submitted by Jeff Cambra (not verified) on Thu, Jan 8, 2015

Hi Renter: As the discussion point is currently worded, if a housing provider does not attend the RRAC hearing and does not provide a "good cause" explanation for the non-appearance, the penalty would be to void the increase. I do want to caution everyone that these are discussion points only at the present time. I am looking for comments from tenants and housing providers. These points are NOT recommendations that the City Council will be voting on during the report I will be making to the Council. The full text of all six discussion points can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alameda-Rental-Housing/870491926323985

Please feel free to vist the page and comment under each discussion point. For your convenience, here is the full text:

Discussion Point #2: Participation in the hearing process required.

This discussion point would require both the tenant and landlord to attend a RRAC hearing.

If the housing provider fails to appear or have a responsible party appear at the hearing without good cause, the rent increase would be void.

If a tenant fails to appear before the Committee without good cause, or if both the tenant and housing provider fail to appear without good cause, the Committee will dismiss the case, and the tenant will be barred from subsequently challenging such increase before the Committee.

The requirement to participate and the associated penalties for failure to participate applies to all parties and all subsequent hearings resulting from the original request for hearing.

Thanks for your comment.

Jeff Cambra,
Community Facilitator

Submitted by Jeff Cambra (not verified) on Thu, Jan 8, 2015

Hi Alison:

The RRAC has a great track record of bringing parties together and resolving rent increase disputes. The problem is that if one party doesn't even show up, it is hard to find a solution that satisfies all parties.

Michele did a great job of covering the RRAC and its success rate. Check it out:
http://thealamedan.org/blog/rents-blog-rent-review-advisory-committee.

Jeff Cambra,
Community Facilitator

Submitted by Renter (not verified) on Fri, Jan 9, 2015

While I think it is great that there eventually would be a way to dispute rent increases, what about some kind of rent control for the city so it doesn't have to come to that? My land lord just increased my rent by 20% just because he can which seems excessive.

Submitted by David F. Perry (not verified) on Fri, Jan 9, 2015

As the current chairperson of the Rent Review Advisory Committee I would like to clarify a couple of items in the reporting above in order to avoid misinformation or misperception.

The RRAC was asked to provide a brief, informational presentation at three of the Task Force meetings. It was clearly stated at each of these presentations that the purpose was informational only so that those participating in the task force process would have an understanding of what the RRAC does. The members of the RRAC gave each of these presentations at the beginning of each meeting and left after the presentations so as not to be inappropriately involved in the community discussion. The RRAC is subject to the Brown Act and additionally, as a mediation panel, has an obligation to maintain impartiality. The RRAC is not a stakeholder in the task force process.

The RRAC had internally discussed several ideas which it felt might enhance the effectiveness of the RRAC. The process within the RRAC had not proceeded to the point of full discussion and voting on these ideas when the community task force process began. At each task force meeting it was explained by the RRAC that the ideas for improvement presented were for informational purposes and had gone no further than conceptual discussion within the RRAC. These concepts were not presented to the task force as “recommendations” or as “proposals” by the RRAC, as is stated in the article. (As an aside, the concept of expediting hearings did not originate with the RRAC at all).

At the task force meetings the RRAC shared several concepts for improvement which it had informally and internally discussed but did not make any “recommendations” or “proposals” to the task force.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Fri, Jan 9, 2015

Very puzzling to me that people think they will be able to get the City of Alameda to void rent increases. I doubt it would stand the immediate lawsuit such a local ordinance would generate.

As for rent control, it wouldn't apply to units built after June, 1979, thus excluding all wonderful new construction planned for Alameda Point, Del Monte, etc.

Note that for long-term renters, state law requires 60-day notices for significant rent increases and evictions. That creates 60 days of risk for the landlord that the tenant doesn't pay rent.

http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/catenant.pdf

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Sat, Jan 10, 2015

Hi David: Thanks for your comment. To clarify for you, the article actually does not label these as recommendations, but "discussion points" (second paragraph). The paragraph explains pretty explicitly that these were not recommendations.

Submitted by David F . Perry (not verified) on Sat, Jan 10, 2015

Hi Michele,

The article refers to "discussion points 'proposed'" by the RRAC and states that these "'proposals' had already been vetted." The RRAC is not a stakeholder in this task force process and made no "proposals" to the task force. I believe it is important the RRAC's status as an impartial body not be misunderstood.

Thanks,
David

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Sat, Jan 10, 2015

Hi David: Thanks again for weighing in regarding the RRAC's impartial status. I'm wondering if you could clarify what your thinking is around the purpose of these points - who they would ultimately be discussed by (e.g., the folks who participate in these meetings, the City Council) and whether they're seen by RRAC as ways its efficacy could potentially be improved, or just idle points tossed out for discussion.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Sat, Jan 10, 2015

As I recall, Mr. Cambra promised Council a report on his efforts in early December, and yet, these meetings continue.

Was said report ever produced? What's the current timeline for concluding this community-facilitator led process?

Submitted by David (not verified) on Mon, Jan 12, 2015
Submitted by 2wheelSmith (not verified) on Mon, Jan 12, 2015

David,

Yes, the report of the Community Housing Discussion Group exists. The report is available as an attachment to the agenda of the January 20th City Council meeting (item 6H)at the URL

http://legistar1.granicus.com/alameda/meetings/2015/1/3587_A_City_Counci...