Fremont Isn't Ready for Rent Control, Council Decides

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Joseph Geha
East Bay Times

At a packed meeting Tuesday night, the Fremont City Council backed off from pursuing rent control measures after weighing options and hearing from dozens of landlords and tenants.

While Councilman Vinnie Bacon said he favors aggressive rent control and eviction protection measures, he was alone. Councilmen David Bonaccorsi and Raj Salwan said they would prefer to strengthen the city’s existing resolution program, which mediates rent increase disputes between landlords and tenants.

Mayor Lily Mei said she’s “not necessarily opposed to rent control, but I think that for right now, this is not the time” to implement it. Vice Mayor Rick Jones said the solution to the housing crisis in the city and region is to create more housing, especially the affordable kind.

The council didn’t vote on any of the three rent-control options that were presented.

Many landlords told the council they fear rent control measures would make it too difficult to evict problem tenants and affect their livelihoods. One man said rent control is like a drug. “You get it, and you want more.”

A tenants’ rights advocate lamented that the city had taken too long to tackle renter protections. “Housing is a human right, not a commodity to be exploited,” she said.

Comments from the council will be incorporated into a recommendation from city staff about potential next steps, to be presented in September.

Based on a report from consulting firm Management Partners, which detailed various kinds of rent control steps other California cities have taken, city staff presented the council with three options.

The apparent consensus option would have added more teeth to the city’s current rent mediation program. Bonaccorsi said he wanted to take what exists now and put it “on steroids.”

Renters advocates and the consultant have noted the current program is at times ineffective in helping renters and that mediation decisions are not binding. Landlord advocates have said they favor some strengthening too.

Bonaccorsi said he’d like to beef up anti-retaliation measures to protect tenants, make participation mandatory in mediation sessions, and establish a review board to hear rent disputes that couldn’t otherwise be resolved.

He also said he’d be open to supporting a potential binding arbitration method of resolution.

“The tenants are really in an unleveraged position,” Bonaccorsi said. “They don’t have equal bargaining power. There is a lot of fear, there is a lot of anxiety, there is a lot of stress, there’s a lot of families that have been displaced.”

However, he added, full-on rent control is too far reaching of a step.

Salwan agreed, saying rent control is a blanket policy that might benefit those who don’t truly need the help. “It creates a lottery system, where some benefit and some lose, regardless of their ability to pay,” he said.

The other two options the council majority outright rejected would have modeled Fremont’s ordinance after those in other cities.

One would have allowed tenants who believe their rent was hiked unfairly to seek mediation or a hearing before an arbitrator whose decision would be binding.

The other option would have required the establishment of a board to annually adjust rents for the whole city based on the Consumer Price Index.

These two measures could have cost between roughly $2 million and $4 million a year to enforce, though the costs could be passed onto the landlords and, ultimately, tenants, city reports said.

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