The El Cerrito City Council postponed a decision on a package of tenant protections following almost 4 hours of a presentation and public comment at the February 19th meeting. The crowd, composed of a majority of single family home landlords, spoke out against “just cause eviction” and “rent control”. The landlords sported bright yellow tags identifying themselves as “responsible housing providers”, compliments of the California Apartment Association (CAA). Members of the CAA also circulated a document on rent control, which according to one tenant in the audience, read like “gobblygook.” The photocopied document, without a credited author, basically served as a rant against the Richmond rent control model, citing the high salaries of the department members and overall cost of the program. Again, a reminder to the reader, the city council agenda that evening did not address rent control, nor were any of the tenant protections remotely similar to that referenced anonymous rent control article. The circulation of this document seemed to be an extension of a scare campaign aimed at single family home landlords.
The study session began when he Affordable Housing Analyst Aissia Ashoori, led the council through a lengthly overview of the tools: Just Cause for Eviction Rent Registry Tenant Relocation triggered by rent increases.
The Powerpoint, which can be accessed at this link, Tenant Protections Presentation did little to relieve the fears of the numerous landlords worried about creating a new bureaucracy that might ultimately cost them additional money. A graphic display of the Rent Registry information flow system, intended to collect data on number of rental units, and rental rates, resembled a full size checkerboard. The number of steps from start to finish were so numerous and burdensome, even those of us in support of a Registry questioned the wisdom of this system. Council member Fadelli commented in this vain stating something similar at the close of the presentation . Ashoori attempted to clarify the process, verbally offering a simpler explanation of the Rent Registry syste.
Although the Rent Registry drew a great deal of heat from the landlords, mainly because of the bureaucracy and a potential cost, a Just Cause Eviction Ordinance truly stood front in center as the enemy of the “responsible housing provider”. Biggest objection: Landlords claimed that they could not afford the cost of eviction, and that their rentals represented their 401k or retirement plan.
After the meeting I approached one landlord who schooled me on “landlording as a business”. She explained that her rental was an investment and every investment has a risk factor. At some point if the risk factor outweighs the benefit, or in this case the profit, then she, as a smart investor, would simply take her house off the market. The council heard similar threats from many of the landlords who spoke at public comment. Just a side bar- the cost for eviction doesn’t change with “just cause”. What does change is that the landlord can no longer evict for “no cause”.
I found irony, sitting in a meeting for tenant protections with a room dominated by people identified as “responsible housing providers” speaking fearfully about what amounts to be fairly weak protections for tenants. But fear won the wrestling match, pinning compassion to the ground, and in this case using a choke hold. One tenant said to me, “I thought this meeting was suppose to be for tenants?”
For those who are concerned about maintaining an economically and racially diverse community, a community where we can house our teachers as well as our IT workers, our grocery clerks as well as our lawyers, our seniors or others on fixed income, this meeting missed the mark. Notable was the absence of this concern in the discussion. Two speakers both spoke to their disappointment with the landlords/investors, with one speaker calling out the reactions and threats as selfish and clearly not in the interest of the greater community. To be fair, a few landlords did express sympathy with those tenants facing eviction and proposed some type of community fund for renter relief on a case by case basis.
After 50 or more speakers, with the clock nearing the 11th hour, the council voted to hold over discussion and action until March 5th. They will re-adjourn at 5:30 p.m. without public comment at the onset. This decision seemed to be in the best interest of all parties, as people were tired, the presentation seemed to leave more questions than answers, and most importantly, if the city acts they should get it right.
Honestly, the meeting disturbed many of us who are concerned about tenant protections, as we are not certain that the staff or council is getting it right. On December 18th the Human Relations Commission put forward a recommendation for tenant protections. This recommendation included a temporary rent cap, just cause eviction ordinance, and the convening of a community task force comprised of tenants, landlords and homeowners to hash out a more permanent solution. If the council had paid attention to the HRC resolution, the meetings and discussion in January might have lead to an ordinance by as early as March.
While the City staff and Council drag out this arduous process, other cities, regional bodies and the State of California is moving forward. The State is contemplating a state-wide anti-rent gouging legislation as well as just cause for eviction, and the CASA Compact 2019 drafted by the Committee to house the Bay Area includes similar recommendations for the Bay Area region.
Please write the Mayor and Council Members prior to the March 5th meeting El Cerrito City Council E-mail and ask them to reconsider the HRC Resolution on Tenant Protections. Let’s get the predatory landlords out of El Cerrito and lets tell the “responsible housing providers” to turn their ears away from the fear mongering of the CAA.