Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Alameda City Council Unanimously Extends Moratorium on Evictions & Rent Increases; City Poised to Adopt Permanent Rent Control Law

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.)

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.

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.

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.


  1. You ignored the relocation assistance aspect in this post. It sounded like staff's recommendation of $1500 moving expenses, plus up to four months rent depending upon length of tenancy, will be included in the proposed legislation.

    While it is not a full just-cause eviction protection, it does offer significant discouragement from willy-nilly replacing of tenants just to get around rent caps/mediation.

  2. Long-term Alamedans, Predators’ Prey

    Alameda rents were sent through the roof by a four-page color spread that came out in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle last summer touting our beach, the quality of life and low rents. To a San Franciscan renter paying $3,000 for a studio, a $2,000 flat in Alameda sounded great. But not so for long-term Alamedans used to paying $1,200. Mass evictions, previously unheard of, are now commonplace not just in Alameda, but throughout the East Bay wherever rent control is not in place to protect tenants from losing their homes. Horror stories of absentee landlord abuse are cropping up.
    "Joe" is a disabled Viet Nam-era ex-Marine who spends over half his income on rent. Joe’s savings were obliterated by medical bills and therapy for PTSD. An eight-percent rent increase for him is constructive eviction.
    Until recently, Erica lived next door to Joe on Santa Clara. She’s a single mom flight attendant. In the summer of ’93, Beulah from Berkeley bought Erica’s building and jacked up the rents 30%. This summer, Erica and her six-year-old son received a no-fault eviction so this new landlady, Beulah, could re-do the floors and kitchen and increase the rent to twice what it was when she bought the place the previous year.
    Until recently, Linda lived in Erica’s building for twenty-eight years. She’s a legal secretary in San Francisco with a Boston accent. After seeing what happened to Erica, Linda moved out.
    Joe is aware that Beulah-from-Berkeley has been trying to buy his building. “I wish Linda hadn’t moved away,” he told me one day, gazing out his window at the newly painted building next door. “I miss watching Erica play Frisbee with her son. I feel like some kind of prey, and Beulah’s the predator.”
    Joe and I go to church with “Elsie,” who lives just down the street. Elsie’s ninety years old, a thin wisp of a woman who’s shared the wisdom of her years by publishing three memoirs in her eighties. Elsie has a heart condition. She’s frail. Her life could be snuffed out because somebody who doesn’t even live here wants to MAKE, MORE, MONEY!

  3. I'm an active member of ARC and stayed at the meeting until 3:30 a.m. Unfortunately I can't be optimistic because I don’t think the council is headed in the right direction for tenants. ARC did a great job of presenting their case, especially Duane Moles, but the council just isn't listening. Among the bizarre proposals favored by the council is one to allow a landlord to evict 25% of the tenants in a building per year for "capital improvements." Apparently "no cause" evictions will still be allowed (with relocation expenses still up in the air), so this doesn't make much difference anyway. The council's insistence on holding the meeting in an auditorium heated to 60 degrees but no more and running to 4 a.m. didn't help things either. I can understand that my fellow activists want to put a good spin on the meeting,but I was deeply disappointed, not to mention totally exhausted. This will have to be settled at the ballot box.