Rules to strengthen Alameda's rent mediation process stall

Rules to strengthen Alameda's rent mediation process stall

Michele Ellson

City Council members agreed in principle on new rules intended to strengthen its process for mediating rent disputes but stopped short of passing an ordinance on Tuesday.

Council members said Tuesday that they are prepared to approve rules that would enshrine the existence of the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee in the city’s code, require landlords to provide renters information about the committee when they hand out rent increases and require landlords and tenants to participate in scheduled rent dispute hearings.

But Mayor Trish Spencer said she wants city staff to make sure a proposed provision to void rent increases imposed by landlords who don’t show up to scheduled rent committee hearings – leverage designed to ensure landlords participate in the mediation process – isn’t a de facto rent control that could violate state law limiting rent control to certain properties.

A revised ordinance could be back before the council in July, City Attorney Janet Kern said. Meanwhile, the city will get to work on a study documenting the impacts of rising rents.

Council members did not broach the topic of imposing rent controls. Nor did they consider restricting evictions, despite concerns that some landlords are giving tenants notices they have 60 days to move as a means of avoiding rent increase reviews.

In 2014 the City Council narrowly voted to forgo a formal city rents task force that would hold hearings and collect data on rising rents and evictions in favor of a community process intended to gather anecdotal information and to come up with solutions.

After a series of public meetings, the community group came up with a list of six discussion points, five of which landlords and tenants agreed on, that council members in January asked staff to adapt into new rules to both better promote and strengthen its non-binding mediation process.

The sixth point – setting a minimum rent increase required to trigger the right to a hearing before the rent committee – was included in an alternate ordinance that council members didn’t support.

"We're taking away rights tenants have today," City Councilman Jim Oddie said.

Both landlord and tenant advocates spoke out in support of the ordinance, which had the support of four members of council. But some tenants also urged the council to do more to protect them.

Barbara Duncan said she and tenants in the other three units in her building got notices this past Saturday that their rent was being raised by $170 a month.

“And I thought I had the best landlord,” Duncan said.

Another speaker said she received a $600 a month increase. She said more needs to be done.

"Please do something about these landlords who raise these rents. Because seniors and people with fixed income really need your help," the woman, who didn’t give her full name, said.

State law permits landlords to require tenants who have occupied a home or apartment for a year or more to move, with 60 days’ notice. State law also does not impose restrictions on rents, though it does limit the restrictions cities and counties can impose.

Some cities – including Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward and San Francisco – have local rent control laws, while others have “just cause” laws that limit evictions. The state’s Costa-Hawkins law prohibits cities from imposing rent control on single-family homes and condominiums or any dwelling built and authorized for residential use after February 1, 1995.

Spencer said she wants more information on the amount of rental property that the law would exempt from rent control; the city lacks data on single-family home rentals and has built little multifamily housing since Measure A prohibited it, in 1972.

The law also permits landlords to decide how high to raise rents after a tenant leaves. Prior to the law’s passage, a handful of California cities controlled rent increases even after a tenant moved.

Alameda’s rent review committee mediates landlord-tenant rent disputes, but the decisions it makes aren’t binding, and landlords and tenants aren’t required to show up to the hearings they set. Last year the committee had at least two cases where a landlord declined to appear because the city’s rules didn’t require them to.

Some tenants have called for rent controls, while landlords have said imposing it will have unintended impacts on housing availability and quality. The idea has not won the support of a majority of the council.

Comments

Submitted by Angela Hockabout (not verified) on Wed, May 6, 2015

I am deeply disappointed that the hard work of the community and the urgent need for stronger renter protections has been thwarted. We need these changes to the RRAC enacted ASAP. I felt that the staff and city attorney more than proved the legality and feasibility of the improvements. This represents a lost chance for some families to stay in their homes in the coming months.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Wed, May 6, 2015

City Council just approved new contracts for public safety (in a rush, it seems, before Russo hit the door...)

There's a good chance those contracts will necessitate another local public safety tax measure like Measure P.

When taxes like that, and like Measure I and Measure E, for the schools, are passed, and increase landlord costs, should that not be passed on to tenants?

golfwriter's picture
Submitted by golfwriter on Wed, May 6, 2015

I personally know a senior man who was in the audience at this council meeting. He had his rent raised over $1,000 ... and he has no idea what to do about his situation. And he was afraid to speak at this meeting. Council did nothing to help him last night.

Two points are worth consideration:

1) The data council asked to see simply does not exist. Those who received 60-day notices and moved on are simply not involved in any data pool. The only way data would be available, as I understand it, is if the police were involved in removing the tenant -- but that rarely happens. If the council wants information, all they have to do is talk to the chair of the RRAC, who was evicted. He could tell council all they need to know.

2) The "mom and pop" landlords who are part of the committee, and are obviously responsible landlords, are being victimized by the unscrupulous management corporations who are only out to make as much money as they can. It is these management companies who must be stopped. Again, just talk to the chair of the RRAC if you seek information.

Seems the council is afraid here to take any meaningful action to protect long-time Alameda residents who have contributed to our community, be they landlord or tenant.

Submitted by b. (not verified) on Wed, May 6, 2015

Seems the Council doesn't want to anger the management companies, who are the REAL culprits here.

I thought with the new Council seated, there would be a more human approach to things. Looks like the new mayor and council members are just going to let the destruction of Alameda's community continue.

This is a sad day for The Island.

Submitted by kathryn hopping (not verified) on Wed, May 6, 2015

Well here we are again only worse. It's obvious the landlords are avoiding rent increase controversy and mediation by actively evicting tenants. It's equally obvious that "what the market will bear" is today the moral philosophy ofthe times -- like "greed is. good" was for the 80s . There is a singular lack of concern for the diversity, vitality, and well-being of this community and its occupants. Instead, the covert LLCs and the overt Property Management Corporations are becoming (have become?) the "citizens united" of this town. And look at who's running cowed: Trish- "just say no" Spencer and her followers.

Submitted by Kristen (not verified) on Thu, May 7, 2015

Very disappointed in our city council and mayor. Half of the island rents. Their concerns need to be addressed now.

Submitted by Sam (not verified) on Fri, May 8, 2015

Rental increases of 50% should be illegal! You can't expect people to simply come up with an extra $500 a month when most working people have not seen even cost-of-living raises at work since the Financial Crisis broke the economy.

It's greed and it's a complete disregard for the community of Alameda. Maybe there shouldn't be rent control, but how about basic ethics for the lives of the people who have made Alameda their home? People, like myself who have lived here for over 20 years. are being forced to find housing in other cities.

Submitted by b. (not verified) on Fri, May 8, 2015

It's a moment of choice for the leadership of this community.

Do you REALLY want to destroy what this community means in the name of the almighty $$$$$?

Change may be "inevitable," but this is deleting an entire demographic from the population of The Island in a very heartless and cold manner.

Do you really want to erase an entire section of the population and exchange it for one that does not have any interest in filling the shoes of the people being pushed out. You need the people who are being driven away! You *need* the people you are heartlessly telling to "leave if you cannot afford"...