RICHMOND, Calif. – With a 4-2 vote, Richmond, Calif. became the first city in the state to institute rent control in the past 30 years.
The historic ordinance, which will take effect Dec. 1, prevents landlords from hiking rents higher than the annual increase level of the regional Consumer Price Index, about 2 percent a year. The new rule will stabilize rents for an estimated 10,000 households and require landlords to show “just cause” for evictions.
City Councilors Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez, Gayle McLaughlin and Jael Myrick voted in favor of the ordinance. Councilors Nathaniel Bates and Vinay Pimple dissented. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt was absent.
The city plans to pay for a new rent control board and staff by charging landlords an annual fee, estimated at $170 to $230.
Myrick offered an amendment to pass half the cost of those fees from landlords to tenants to make the rule more equitable for small landlords and minimize the number of fee waivers the city has to grant for landlords who can’t pay.
The city must supplement any funds lost to fee waivers with dollars from its general fund, according to City Manager Bill Lindsay.
McLaughlin disagreed with Myrick’s amendment, arguing that under the ordinance, landlords can already pass on other costs to tenants, including property improvement costs.
“What you’re asking me to do is say 50 percent of this fee could be passed on without even knowing what the fee is,” said McLaughlin. “Given the vulnerable state of so many of our tenants, it’s a situation I don’t feel comfortable with.”
McLaughlin offered to compromise by passing 25 percent of the fee onto tenants. Myrick countered with 40 percent, and McLaughlin accepted the offer.
Proponents of the new rule argued it was necessary to combat a growing trend of skyrocketing housing prices in the San Francisco Bay Area.
From 2000 to 2013, Richmond’s African American population shrunk by 12,500 people, and 37 percent of renters earned less than $35,000 annually and spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a study by the U.C. Berkeley Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.
Richmond resident and landlord George Burns said he doesn’t think the city should possess the power to regulate the private market and tell landlords what prices they can charge for rent.
“I don’t see where the city has the authority,” Burns said. “They shouldn’t make it difficult for a landlord to get a bum out of his house.”
Bates told Burns that because he owns a single-family home, he is exempt from the new rule’s rent-raising restrictions. However, Burns must still pay the annual fee and show “just cause” in order to evict a tenant.
Lindsay reminded the council and public that nonpayment of rent and violation of the lease are considered just causes for eviction under the new ordinance.
Lifelong Richmond resident and affordable housing advocate Edith Pastrano attended the meeting to show her support for the new rule.
“I think Richmond needs an ordinance to protect tenants and allow them to stay in their homes,” Pastrano said. “They need protection from being unfairly evicted or getting ridiculously high rent increases.”
The next step in the process falls to the city manager, who is now authorized to spend up to $100,000 to hire a consultant to draft new polices and procedures, including establishing a fee structure for landlords.
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