Renters Weigh In: Part Two

Renters Weigh In: Part Two

To: Mayor Trish Spencer, Vice-Mayor Frank Matarrese, Council Members Tony Daysog, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Jim Oddie.
Cc: Interim City Manager Liz Warmerdam, City Attorney Janet Kern, City Clerk Lara Weisiger. Community Development Director Debbie Potter and members of the Alameda Renters Coalition Steering Committee.

Subject: Item 6-G on the Feb. 16 City Council agenda: Provide Direction to Staff Regarding Certain Elements of a Proposed Rent Stabilization and Tenant Protection Ordinance.

We contend that the Oakland-Alameda real estate markets are nearly indistinguishable from San Francisco and San Jose regarding profitability. Given these facts, claims that landlords can’t afford tenant protection benefits is an unsubstantiated and spurious claim. An exemption like this does not support the principle of tenant protection.

The Rent increase process and the RRAC: We do not support the proposed mediation/arbitration configuration proposed by City Council. Mediation that is non-binding does not provide rent stabilization. Arbitration is expensive, time consuming, overly complex and unfavorable to renters. 

Elected Rent Board: The composition of anybody hearing rent and eviction issues must reflect the broadest spectrum of Alameda residents. To this end, we propose an elected Rent Board.

Rent increases above the annual cap must be sought and approved though petition to the Rent Board. A hearing officer hears petitions in the first instance and considers tenant hardship, previous rent increases, the landlord’s operating costs, providing a fair return on the property and whether the increase is consistent with the principles of rent stabilization and tenant protection.

Decisions by the hearing officer may be appealed to the Rent Board by either party with the landlord bearing all costs, if any. All hearings conducted by the hearing officer and the Rent Board are public. Decisions of the Rent Board are final.

The RRAC: Cases are initiated through the RRAC by landlords seeking rent increases above 5 percent. The RRAC may consider tenant hardship, previous rent increases, the landlord’s operating costs, providing a fair return on the property and whether the increase is consistent with the principles of rent stabilization and tenant protection.

The RRAC must be free to recommend rent increases of less than 5 percent.  The circumstance may arise where at the conclusion of a RRAC hearing, the RRAC might conclude the landlord has not proven the claim for a 5 percent rent increase. Otherwise, the RRAC simply guarantees minimum 5 percent increases to all landlords filing for increases.

Additionally, tenants must be provided the opportunity to bring rent increases below 5 percent to the RRAC. As previously noted, cumulative 5 percent rent increases have significant negative financial impacts and can lead to economic displacement. Tenants must be assured of an impartial and safe forum to bring those grievances.

Resolved and withdrawn complaints: 40 percent of complaints filed with the RRAC are taken off calendar and never heard.  The RRAC must retain jurisdiction of complaints once filed, particularly when complaints are referred to outside mediators. The parties must be required to appear at the RRAC and disclose the terms of agreements.

Outside mediators must be disclosed as part of the public record. The RRAC must provide oversight of mediators and impose accountability and transparency to ensure the mediation process is fair, unbiased and carried out in an equitable and even-handed manner.  Quarterly and annual reports must be required regarding the progress and results of mediation including the mediated rent increase amount.

Written policies and formulas must be developed and implemented by the RRAC for calculating rent, including: capital improvement pass-through ”banking” rent increases; shifting utility costs to tenants; changes in parking fees; and changes in pet deposits or charging pet rent.

One-year leases: While we support initial one-year leases for both new tenants and for tenants present in a unit upon adoption of the ordinance, we are unsure how the provision will operate in subsequent years.  We cannot determine whether a situation in which an existing tenant is not offered a subsequent one-year lease constitutes a no-cause eviction under the ordinance and entitles the tenant to relocation benefits.

Program fees: We support an annual program fee of $120 per year per unit. The fee is paid entirely by the property owner.  The program fee pays the cost of hearings, program staff, data collection and all other necessary administrative and enforcement costs. 

Data collection: Data on notices to vacate and evictions must be collected, as well as all rent increases, not only those at 5 percent or above. The city of Alameda must be concerned with the needs and experiences of all residents. Setting an arbitrary cutoff of 5 percent will make the data set biased. It will make “normal” appear skewed and will not present a true picture of rents in Alameda. 

Landlords must be required to report all rent increases, notices to vacate and evicitons to the Housing Authority. The types of data to be collected include:

1. All rental units in Alameda must be registered within the first year of enacting the ordinance. All current rents must be reported which will constitute the base rent. Additional information to be reported includes the housing unit type and the number of units on each property.

2. Rent increases are to be segregated by housing unit type and by the number of units at each property.
a. Studio, one bedroom, two bedroom, three bedroom, etc., single-family residence and condominium. 
b. Single-family (attached and detached), 2-4 units, 5-19 units, 20-49 units and 50 or more units.
c. Changes in the base rent that occur as part of tenant turnover.

3. Evictions are to be segregated as to whether the eviction was for-cause or no-fault and including specific details. 
a. For-cause: failure to pay rent, breach of lease, nuisance, failure to give access. 
b. No-fault: owner move in, demolition, withdrawal from the rental market, compliance with a government order to vacate.

Annual Review. Based on the data collected on rent increases and evictions reported during the previous 12 months, an annual review is to be provided to the City Council. That review is to include mean and average rent increases and a detailed analysis and presentation of the data collected for Items 1 and 2 above.

Sunset Provision: We oppose a sunset provision. In case the City Council adopts such a provision, a 90-day notice to the public must be required prior to the sunset provision taking effect.

Thank you for your consideration. 
Catherine Pauling
Duane Moles
Bunny Duncan
April Squires
Jason Buckley    
Monty Heying
John Klein
Helen Gilliland
Jennifer Orsolini
Steering Committee
The Alameda Renters’ Coalition