Richmond’s Measure L has passed with over 63 percent of the vote, making Richmond one of several Bay Area cities poised to adopt new rent control measures after Election Day.
“Families with children can plan for the future in a way they haven’t been able to do for years,” said Zak Wear, campaign coordinator for the Fair and Affordable Richmond coalition, which supported the rent control measure.
Until now, Richmond has operated under a strictly market-based rental system: Landlords were free to raise tenants’ rents as high as they deemed appropriate, as long as such rent hikes didn’t violate the terms of the tenant’s lease.
Now, starting on Dec. 30, landlords who own property that was built before 1996 won’t be able to raise rents above the price they set in mid-2015, apart from small annual increases determined by the Bay Area Consumer Price Index to offset changes in cost of living.
Property owners will also be required to prove that they have a “just cause” for eviction, such as a tenant failing to pay their rent or a unit that requires substantial repairs. The ordinance will also establish a five-person administrative rent board, funded by annual landlord registration fees.
Buildings constructed after 1996 and single-family units would be excluded from rent control, in accordance with state law.
Proponents of rent control say that Richmond’s new law will provide much-needed relief to low-income tenants who are being pushed out by rising housing prices throughout the Bay Area.
Wear said that families will now “be able to think, ‘Okay, the rent’s going to go up at the rate of inflation so we can save this money and we can send our kids to community college.’”
Mike Parker, a founding member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), which backed the measure, said that while rent control alone won’t solve Richmond’s affordable housing problem it will protect tenants from being “pushed out because of a spike in the housing market or because of an arbitrary decision by a landlord.”
But Mayor Tom Butt, who opposed the measure, said he thinks it could take months—or even years—to establish the bureaucracy required to implement the measure.
“A lot of people out there are going to expect instant gratification, but it’s not going to happen,” said Butt. “I think there’s going to be a long period of chaos.”
Aside from the five-person rent board, the ordinance doesn’t specify how many staff members it will require. Butt said the new rent control ordinance will create the fourth-largest bureaucracy in the city, after the police, fire and public works departments.
The mayor also said he foresees an upsurge in lawsuits and expects that the California Apartment Association (CAA), which spent well over $110,000 to fight Measure L in Richmond, will seek temporary restraining orders over parts of the ordinance.
It wouldn’t be the first time the CAA has involved itself in Richmond’s rent control debate. In 2015, the City Council passed what Richmond’s city manager, Bill Lindsay, called a “compromise ordinance” to institute rent control. Just a month after the council approved the ordinance, CAA spent over $71,000 gathering signatures to successfully strike it down.
Joshua Howard, senior vice president of CAA, said the trade group feels that elements of Measure L could be challenged in court.
“We believe the provision to roll rents back to July 2015 levels is legally questionable,” he said, because it “violates the Due Process and Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution by illegally rolling back rents to an arbitrary point in time.”
Jeffrey Wright, a longtime real estate broker and Richmond landlord, said he thinks the new ordinance will motivate landlords to accept only renters with good rental history and credit in order to minimize risk.
“Moving forward, I am going to really scrutinize applications when I have a vacancy,” said Wright.
But Paula Kristovich, a Richmond resident who campaigned for the RPA outside of Washington Elementary School Tuesday morning, said she was hopeful that rent control will be a positive step for Richmond.
“I’m just hoping Measure L will prevent a whole bunch of people from being thrown out on the street,” she said.
Update: An earlier version of this article said that Measure L would be implemented on Dec. 13, but the ordinance is now slated to go into effect on Dec. 30, due to City Council certification requirements.