Renters Sit with Staffers

Hopes spelled out for city’s new rental ordinance

On Monday, Nov. 16, members of the Alameda Renters Coalition (ARC), tenant representatives from Bayview Apartments, 470 Central Ave., and attorneys with Tenants Together met with city staff to discuss what they considered components of a fair and functional rent and just-cause ordinance. 
The meeting came on the heels of the City Council placing a moratorium on no-cause evictions, the Veterans Day evictions of all the renters at Bayview by their landlord, Sridhar Equities of San Jose, using a loophole in that moratorium and a Nov. 14 renters’ rally at the apartment complex (Landlords Sneak in Under Moratorium,” Nov. 19).
When the City Council passed the moratorium on Nov. 4 it offered the landlords a way around the measure with a “capital improvement exemption.” The exemption allows a landlord to evict tenants if the landlord plans to make capital improvements on the property. The tenants and the tenants’ groups that met with city staff pointed out that they felt that Sridhar Equities was exploiting that exemption when the company evicted the Bayview tenants. “City staff seemed responsive to the need to close this loophole,” the tenants stated in a press release. 
ARC, Tenants Together and the Bayview tenants told city staff that they hoped that the city would hammer out a “clearly articulated” document. They pointed out to city staff that the ordinance must apply to all rental units, including single-family homes and duplexes, and not just to larger buildings and the traditional apartment complexes.
In a press release ARC spelled out four reasons for a “fault” or “for-cause” eviction. These include failure to pay rent, breach of lease, nuisance and failure to give the landlord access to a unit. ARC offered three reasons for a “no-fault” eviction: an owner moving into a unit, a notice to vacate for either demolition or health and safety reasons and the Ellis Act.  
In 1985, the State Legislature passed the Ellis Act, which provides that no local government can compel a rental property owner to continue to offer their housing for rent. This law allows rental property owners to exit the business to avoid the potential for bankruptcy or  to allow them to move into their own rental units. 
In addition the renters and their representatives asked staff to include relocation payments for no-fault evictions rationally related to the true costs of relocating.
The group asked city staff to draft an ordinance that would permit landlords to increase rents but that would require landlords to tie those increases to a relevant measure of inflation, specifically 65 percent of the Consumer Price Index with a cap of 4 percent in any given year. 
If the renters see an ordinance entirely to their liking, it would include an elected, rather than an appointed rent board. Further the ordinance would require that landlords file all rent increase and eviction notices with either the Alameda Housing Authority or the elected rent board. 
ARC stated in its press release that it seeks the passage of a rent ordinance “in order to stabilize our community and stop displacement through protections fair to both renters and landlords.”
ARC pointed out that more than half of Alamedans are renters and that “the effect of having stable rents will put more money back into the local economy and local small businesses.”
The renters suggest to city staff that the new ordinance require that tenant receive written notice of his or her rights when he or she first move into an apartment. They told city staff that they would like to see the ordinance contain a stipulation that would require landlords keep security deposits in separate interest-bearing accounts and that landlords return these deposits when tenancies end with no lawful deductions. 
They also asked that the new ordinance allow tenants to recover attorney fees anytime landlords are found in violation of the ordinance. “This is the standard in other rent ordinances throughout the state,” the renters told city staff.