Early Wednesday morning, the Alameda City Council unanimously extended the City’s moratorium against evictions and rent increases. The moratorium was set to expire January 9, 2016. It has been extended 60 days. Under the law, landlords must have “just cause” to evict and cannot impose rent increases above 8%. The extension of the moratorium was crucial to prevent rent gouging in anticipation of the adoption of a more comprehensive rent control law. This is a huge victory for the Alameda Renters Coalition and builds momentum for their campaign for meaningful rent control.
The Council considered three options to address rising rents and displacement, but approved none of the options at the meeting that lasted nearly nine hours. Instead the Council stated areas of agreement and asked staff to draft an ordinance for the Council to vote on in February.
The Council mainly discussed the weakest option, beefing up the Rent Review Advisory Committee (RRAC), the city’s existing rent mediation program. However, critics argued, and city staff and council members acknowledged, that this option would not stop a landlord from imposing large rent increases. Decisions of the RRAC are nonbinding.
The strongest option before the council was rent control with just cause for eviction protections. However, Alameda Renters Coalition correctly argued that the staff’s draft made mistakes in allowing annual 8% rent increases and allowing permanent evictions for capital improvement work. Nonetheless, the option provided a decent framework and starting point for discussion of a real rent control law. However, this option did not attract support of the majority of the council.
The council indicated that it would like staff to work out an entirely new ordinance, one that Councilmember Spencer described as "RRAC with teeth." Some features discussed include disincentivizing rent increases over 5% annually by requiring mediation or arbitration if a landlord wanted to increase rent above 5%, requiring landlords to offer tenants a year lease at the time of a rent increase, requiring landlords to pay relocation payments to tenants facing no-fault evictions, and limiting the rent for the unit for new tenants following no fault evictions. Staff says they will have new ordinance available to council for 1st reading in February. The Council expressed the desire for the ordinance to contain a sunset date; 2019 was contained in the staff recommendation.
Notably, the City Council appears to have rejected including eviction protections in the ordinance. Tenants Together Legal Director, Leah Simon-Weisberg and countless Alameda residents emphasized the need for eviction protections to provide stability to renters who pay their rent and comply with their obligations. However, the City Council appears not to understand that allowing landlords to evict tenants without a reason, even with rent control in place, doesn't do much to help tenants.
Landlord lobbyists, who oppose any enforceable regulations on rent, continued to push the idea that landlords increasing rent any amount under 10% is acceptable. City staff proposed one option of an 8% rent increase cap, presumably modeled on San Jose, which is actually in the process of revising its ordinance following a poll showing widespread support for reducing rent increases far below the allowable 8%. (San Jose adopted at 8% cap at a time when that figure was related to high inflation rates.)
8% rent increases are too high! Just ask #SanJose advocates: @LawFoundationSV @wpusanews @PACTSJ @sbtu95 @SVDebug https://t.co/UhWI4akKkc
— Tenants Together (@TenantsTogether) January 6, 2016
One councilmember in Alameda expressed interest in 6% increases and another wanted to focus on cumulative increases being no more than 12% in two years, but neither provided justification for any of these figures. Only the renters’ coalition proposed numbers grounded in anything. ARC pushed rent increases tied to CPI (inflation), the approach used by virtually every rent control city and regularly upheld by the courts.
.@gaylonparsons AND most cities with #rentcontrol base rent increases on inflation (CPI): Santa Monica, Berkeley, Oakland, Los Angeles...
— Tenants Together (@TenantsTogether) January 6, 2016
The public testimony from renters and homeowners in support of rent control was powerful. At 10:30 pm, a large group of high school students who had been waiting hours to speak asked to be taken out of order so they could get home and get some sleep before school the next day. They spoke about the impact of rent increases and the threat of displacement on them and their families. Long-term tenants from all walks of life spoke about the need to protect residents and stop displacement.
In #alameda we have baller high schoolers who are engaged in the civic process #organize #alamtg #rentstabilization pic.twitter.com/cXBUxZdBjA
— Malia Vella (@Malia_Vella) January 6, 2016
Thanks to tireless organizing by the Alameda Renters Coalition the moratorium is in effect preventing the worst abuses for now, and staff has been directed to prepare a new ordinance for the council’s consideration in February. ARC will continue to organize for real rent control and just cause for eviction protections. In the meantime, ARC should celebrate this latest victory in moving the City of Alameda one major step closer to adopting an effective rent control law to protect city residents from unfair rent hikes and displacement.
Quote of the night on rising rents #alamtg "It's family stability on one side and profit margins on the other." @Alameda_Renters spokesman
— Steven Tavares (@eastbaycitizen) January 6, 2016