Our current housing crisis is nothing new and many saw it coming. For over 2- 1/2 years, The E’ville Eye has been advocating that the city tackle this complicated issue to maintain a stable base of residents and help foster community. We saw it coming when we repeatedly witnessed Icon on Park tenants fleeing after annual double-digit percentage rent increases. In April of 2015, we covered the high-profile story of our Poet Laureate Sarah Kobrinsky leaving for Richmond after receiving a nearly 40% rent increase at the hands of a former Planning Commissioner. We exposed that every under developmental project in our city was slated to be 100% rental and the ownership of much of Emeryville’s housing stock left to the mercy of corporations. We wrote an in-depth piece last October 2015 outlining the options for Rent Controls and Tenant Protections in our city. Unfortunately, none of these seemed to provoke action.
Meanwhile, our Council has directed our limited city staff resources to implement an administratively burdensome version of a Minimum Wage increase, a marijuana ordinance, a noise ordinance, explore implementing a soda-tax and most recently, a retail & restaurant scheduling ordinance marketed as “Fair Work Week” that was deemed the highest priority by Mayor Dianne Martinez. The city is finally prepared to tackle this issue at tonight’s 7:15 p.m. council meeting when it is scheduled to read its “Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations” draft ordinance. Emeryville joins a list of at least six other Bay Area cities that are pursuing various forms of rent control and tenant protects this year through ballot measures and ordinances. Emeryville currently defers to state law for rent and tenant disputes and legal matters are handled by ECHO Housing in Oakland.
The idea was initiated by the housing committee back in October 2014, but for whatever reasons this has not been prioritized until recently. The City held a study session presented by City Housing Coordinator Catherine Firpo back on June 7th to review recommendations by the Housing Committee. Council then directed staff to pursue drafting an ordinance with the goal of “increasing certainty and fairness within the residential rental market in the City and thereby serve the public peace, health, safety, and public welfare.”
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As explained, actual Rent Control would be difficult and only apply to units built after 1995 because of restrictions imposed by the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Some municipalities are instead opting to make it very difficult to evict people and implementing punitive measures if they do. The “meat” of the ordinance establishes a four-month rent “relocation assistance” for “no fault” evictions initiated by the landlord. The city is hoping this will discourage landlords from applying massive rent increases if they know they may be liable to compensate a tenant four times this amount in the event their eviction is challenged.
“The city would force us to pay $12,000 cash (4 times the monthly rent of $3,000) to the couple that we are renting our home to when we return home from being overseas” noted one landlord who contacted us via email. “It’s insane …” “That would make it so I would not rent my place out ever again” noted another commenter. It’s unlikely that landlords will get much sympathy from anyone in light of some very high-profile eviction stories and many merciless rent hikes (once again, the “bad actors” ruin it for the good ones). Landlords can still evict tenants for a litany of “just cause” lease violations that include use of the unit for illegal activities, health code violations and failure to pay rent.
It is thought that this will likely kill the short-term rental market (e.g. Airbnb) that many consider to be partially culpable for rising rents (probably a benefit to our hotels). “You cannot say that Airbnb (and other vacation sites) are causing the housing crisis, but they probably are exacerbating it,” noted Jake Wegmann in this SF Chronicle piece. , a planning professor at the University of Texas at Austin who wrote an analysis of vacation rentals’ impact in San Francisco and four other cities.
So it appears individual landlords are up in arms, but will it impact the corporate landlords that make up a bulk of the rental units in our city? Will it have any impact on the Essex, Equity, Avalon Bay & Prometheus’ or just hurt the individual owner renting out their house? Will it encourage developers to build ownership condominium and cooperative model housing instead of rental housing like it is said to have done in New York … or will it discourage developers from building in Emeryville period as some economists have noted? Will this encourage condominium conversions which can ultimately diminish the availability of affordable rental housing? Will this particular councils’ “Sledgehammer to crack a nut” approach to policymaking end up hurting those it intends to help and lead to unintended consequences? Perhaps desperate times demand desperate measures.
Read the staff report and ordinance draft on Emeryville.org and the draft ordinance below on SlideShare. Landlords and tenants are encouraged to attend tonight’s 7:15 p.m. council meeting and provide your input through public comment.