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The Next Big Thing: A Rent Control/Rent Stabilization Ordinance in Santa Cruz
by Steve Pleich (spleich [at]
Friday Mar 3rd, 2017 11:41 AM
This Conversation Needs to Start Now!
As we stand in the glow of the newly approved Sanctuary City Ordinance, we can all be proud of the grassroots energy and activism that pushed this law into the light and continues to stand in solidarity with our immigrant communities. And although questions linger about the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and influence within our community and while much work needs to be done to provide truly comprehensive protection to our immigrants and undocumented residents, we can and should cast our collective gave forward to the next and most important issue on the local horizon: The need for a Rent Control or Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

While I generally favor the broader concept, there are many questions that need to be addressed before moving forward with even a draft ordinance. However, one fact is beyond contestation. Rising rents in our community continue to force out working men and women, and particularly the working poor, who have traditionally used reasonably priced rentals as a gateway to the purchase of a family home. Unless we move right now to stabilize rental prices in Santa Cruz, we will continue to lose our local workforce and the hard earned dollars they contribute to our local economy. And what is worse, we will simultaneously open up the very real possibility of becoming a "bedroom" community where higher wage workers and professionals from out of the area dominate the housing market, further marginalizing our resident workforce. So let's take a closer look at the basic elements which must be included in any prospective rental control or rent stabilization ordinance.

Chief among these is whether or not the ordinance would be limited to units constructed before a certain time. For instance, the ordinance may provide that rental units constructed before 1980 would arguably be fully paid for and so the need to raise the rent to compensate for existing or rising mortgage payments would not be a factor. Also, in light of the fact that Santa Cruz has such a large number of mobile home rental units, it may be both fiscally wise and administratively expedient to separate the ordinance to provide subsets of regulations for mobile homes and apartment rentals. It would also be necessary to limit any rise in rent to not exceed more than once in any twelve (12) months. We must also consider whether such an ordinance would provide for exemptions such as units voluntarily vacated or vacated subject to eviction and include an overall exemption for any rental funded through a government subsidy program.

I believe it would be wise public policy to consider including greater protections for renters within the body of the ordinance. Specifying and requiring binding or non binding rental dispute mediation and/or arbitration and the clear delineation of tenants legal rights would serve to clarify and codify the respective legal positions of landlords and tenants in a way that could guarantee fundamental fairness of process. Renters must be free from retaliation or threat of lawsuits for exercising their rights under any rental agreement and the imposition of "pass through" charges must be specifically prohibited.

To insure that tenants receive the full protection of the law, I would propose that any draft ordinance include a "just cause" provision either as part of the ordinance or as a separate and supplemental ordinance. (e.g., Seattle JCEO) A Just Cause Eviction Ordinance requires landlords have just cause reasons to terminate tenancy or evict month-to-month or other periodic tenants (tenants who pay rent weekly or twice a month). Just causes for eviction include nonpayment of rent, noncompliance with lease terms, chronically late rent payments, and the intention of the landlord to occupy the unit themselves or rent the unit to an immediate family member. The notice required for each just cause reason varies but can and should be reasonably ascertained and clearly specified in the ordinance. The landlord cannot use just cause termination in retaliation for a tenant asserting their rights under landlord-tenant law or calling in a complaint with code enforcement.

As mentioned above, one of the most common "just cause" provision address instances where the landlord intends to occupy the unit themselves or rent it to an immediate family member. In order to use this just cause reason, there must not be another comparable unit available in the building. Immediate family is considered a domestic partner, spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling or child. If the landlord uses this just cause reason to end the tenancy, the tenant is entitled to 20 days written notice before the day that rent is due.

Another common just cause is when the owner decides to sell a single family dwelling unit. In this instance, tenants living in single family dwelling units that are being put up for sale are commonly entitled to 60 days written notice before the end of a rental period. Single family dwelling units are houses designed to hold a single family, not apartment buildings, duplexes, or triplexes. Within the 30 days after the tenant leaves, the landlord must take action to list and show the unit. The landlord must continue to try to sell the unit for 90 days after they first listed and showed the unit. If the landlord does not go through with these steps, a tenant would be entitled to legal resource through the terms of the ordinance itself or through the local Small Claims Court.

These are but a few of the legal, commercial and ethical questions that must be considered by council and subject to discussion in an open and transparent public process. To think we know more than we do about this incredibly complex issue is a recipe for failure as a public policy and would cause the visitation of unnecessary hardship on landlord and tenant alike. I recommend that we take a good look at regional models such as the current ordinance in the neighboring City of San Jose before we take this leap that can, and will, have such a lasting and profound effect on our community.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by CM Berger
Saturday Mar 4th, 2017 1:12 AM
According to the latest quarterly report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly wage in Santa Cruz County is $952. The average weekly wage in Santa Clara County is $2335. That's over 250% higher in Santa Clara County. At current Santa Cruz rents to wages ratio - rents would have to actually be ROLLED BACK for a person to be able to not only pay rent but also have some savings, like we're supposed to.

Rents stabilized at a completely outrageous level compared to local earning power is just not meaningful rent control. So how is that issue going to be addressed? it's so germane to the discussion. The wage issue, the fact that the current rents are outrageous - these have to be integral in all serious discussions of rent control. Because they are going to shape the reality of controlling rents into a process that actually helps those that rent control is supposed to help. And let's face it, most poor people who pay rent anywhere near the SF Bay Area are going to have to consolidate with an extended family in order to save anywhere near enough to actually buy a house and pay mortgage, insurance and property taxes -which are also jacked up in this area.

So, yes, of course I'm "for" rent control. I see it as a big part of the answer to the rising tide of homelessness. Rent control is a ballot initiative, so the very beginning has to be ORGANIZING tenants into a cohesive voting bloc. This is what Santa Cruz Tenants Association and Santa Cruz Tenant Organizing Committee is doing - the grass roots work with tenants, who need to understand the complexities as they affect their economic lives. I would like to see everyone interested in rent control in this very small area getting together and talking about it.

We (SCTA and SCTOC) met with Dan DeBolt who did the social media campaign for the Mountain View rent control campaign. He described the vicissitudes of the campaign, which took several years of organizing a wider community group. A woman named Maria Marroquin, who heads the Mtn View day worker center, was the figurehead who was able to pull it all together by letting it all happen somewhat organically, trusting the people to reach consensus. It was messy, but it passed. There has to be tolerance and patience at the helm, people who understand group dynamics and respect all people's voice. And at the same time, there must be a push to come to concluding decisions.

It was all very fascinating. To happen here in Santa Cruz, there will have to be more inclusion of Spanish speaking community members. Their presence in Mtn View made a lot of difference. Mexican and other Latin American cultures are more collaborative. Economically poor communities of Americans are also often more inter-dependent and help each other in order to survive, so there is a tradition that can carry over to the workings of a rent control campaign. It will take all the tenants possible. We are starting on a UCSC campaign to start a students tenant union for on and off-campus students.
by Razer Ray
Saturday Mar 4th, 2017 5:13 PM
The simplest place to start would be declaring an economic emergency (after all, open guitar cases were a public safety menace...) due to unaffordability of housing relative to paycheck averages for jobs in the city limits, and cap the number of students who can live in city limits, forcing... because you're gonna HAVE TO FORCE THEM, landlords used to grossly inflated rents and leases by young people who tend to be MUCH MORE AFFLUENT than local young people, to either rent to locals, or leave the units vacant.

IF they choose to leave them vacant declare eminent domain under the economic emergency order and take the housing under trust to some independent organization who will see to it the housing goes to people who actually live and work here. Not to a google app developer on contract in the Bay Area or a student from Milwaukee.

That physically nearly empty condo complex behind Cruzio, "Walnut Commons" that Slater Destruction ram-rodded up the city council's ass without even one whimper of AFFORDABLE HOUSING and certainly not any cry of ecstasy about LOW-COST HOUSING out of them, would be a good place to start.

Then cap how many students can work in Santa Cruz, and you MIGHT get some semblance of normal community back, or else 'rent control' simply benefits the affluent few who CAN afford local rents.

Ps. My doorway mate just got a job within walking distance of where he "lives". IF he went looking for housing (couch-surfing on his part-time check), he'd have to move out of town.