City Council Halts Rent Increases at Floating Home Community

Alameda Floating Homes Association--Barnhill Marina tenants will not face excessive rent increases after the City Council changed the Rent Control Ordinance to include floating homes.

City Council Halts Rent Increases at Floating Home Community

At its April 28 special meeting, the Alameda City Council voted 5-0 to adopt an urgency ordinance that will extend the protections of the city’s Rent Control Ordinance to maritime residences or floating homes.

The decision by the council ensures floating homeowners at Barnhill Marina & Boatyard, located at 2394 Mariner Square Dr., are subject to the same rent increase stipulations other renters of multifamily housing units face.

“We are grateful to Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and the City Council for urgently intervening by calling a special city council meeting to adopt an urgency ordinance to put floating homes under the city’s existing rent stabilization ordinance,” wrote Liz Williams, a member of the Alameda Floating Home Association and a Barnhill resident, in a press release.

Tenants at Barnhill Marina own their floating homes and liveaboard vessels, however, they rent the berths they occupy. Barnhill Marina management had imposed excessive berth rent increases, some as high as 178 percent. The increases were scheduled to take effect May 1. Several Barnhill residents submitted their berth rent invoices to the council to show the exorbitant rent increases. One resident’s rent bill was $750 on March 1 but ballooned to $1,645 on April 1. Another resident’s rent bill increased from $490 on Jan. 1, to $1,365 on April 1.

Now Barnhill management can only increase rents at the rate allowed under the Rent Control Ordinance. The ordinance, which went into effect Sept. 2019, says rents at multi-family properties built before February 1995 cannot exceed the Annual General Adjustment (AGA), calculated at 70% of the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the 12-month period ending April of each year. The AGA cannot exceed 5% or be less than 1% in any given year regardless of the percentage change in the CPI. The City of Alameda announced on March 29 this year’s AGA is 2.7%. Property owners were allowed to impose the 2.7 percent increase on May 1.

City staff were concerned about the rent increases because of the age of many Barnhill residents.

“If floating home residents are not provided with the same protection as other tenants in the city, there will be an immediate and unacceptable disruption to the peace, health, and safety of the city, as vulnerable floating home residents could be immediately and permanently displaced,” wrote city staff in the staff memorandum.

There are 66 residents at Barnhill. According to a city staff memorandum, half of the Barnhill floating homeowners are over the age of 65 with low-incomes or are on fixed incomes and do not have the means to pay the increased rents, thereby they faced the prospect of losing their homes and becoming unhoused. Also, because floating homes do not have a mode of power on their own, they would have to be towed to a new location, which would be expensive and potentially infeasible.

“The city heard our plea for protection and intervened to keep our vulnerable seniors from being displaced,” wrote Williams.

Floating homeowners began receiving letters from Barnhill management on their plans to increase rents in late January. Management told residents rent increases were prompted by increases in insurance costs and property tax assessments. Several tenants reported having contentious talks with Barnhill management when trying to negotiate less costly rent increases. Alameda city attorney’s office special counsel Adam Radinsky and Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Gregory Boller wrote a letter to Barnhill management attorney Philip E. Weiss of the San Diego law firm, Brodsky, Micklow, Bull & Weiss, L.L.P., on April 14, insisting Barnhill halt the rent increases.

“If your clients insist upon continuing this course of action, we reserve the right to take further action, including pursuing all available legal remedies,” stated the letter.

Barnhill continued with its rent increase plan. It wasn’t until the threat of the urgency ordinance that Barnhill management started to back track. Their other lawyer Galin Luk, from the San Francisco law firm Cox, Wootton, Lerner, Griffin & Hansen LLP; wrote a letter to Alameda City Clerk Lara Weisinger requesting City Council delay the vote on the urgency ordinance and allow Barnhill to negotiate a deal with its tenants. The council refused and continued its urgency ordinance vote.

Original Barnhill Marina founder, Barney Brnhill, sold the marina to Valley Investments -- Redwoods LLC, a Sacremento-based company, in late 2021.

Because it is an urgency ordinance, the adoption of floating homes in the city’s Rent Control Ordinance took effect immediately after the vote. Urgency ordinances need four “yes” votes to pass.

The council will also vote on a separate, but similar, non-urgency ordinance that would ensure that the provision of the urgency ordinance remains effective in the event the grounds for the urgency are subject to litigation. The ordinance would take effect in 30 days.