Measure L passes with mixed reactions

Richmond’s rent control measure—Measure L—has passed with over 63 percent of the vote. Photo by Catherine Schuknecht.

Richmond’s rent control measure—Measure L—has passed with over 63 percent of the vote. Photo by Catherine Schuknecht.

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.

17 Comments

  1. John doe

    Well I guess there is no point in upgrading my units anymore. Let them rot!

    • Confidential Commenter

      I was against Measure L also, because I believe in the end it will do more harm than good. But I hope that you can find a way to not let your building “rot”. That doesn’t help anyone including yourself either. Let us all find a way to continue making Richmond a more beautiful and attractive place to live, each in our own way. We will have to see how it all plays out. These are interesting times indeed.

  2. Rich

    This very interesting.
    I always gave my tenets a break, I think I’m screwed.

  3. Mary

    My HOA will probably vote to restrict owners from renting their units thanks to this poorly designed measure. The difficulty of evicting a bad or dangerous tenant under “just cause” will make expanding rentals a non-starter. I guess we will go back to being all owner occupied plus many vacant units (sigh). Removing potential rental units from the market is just one of Measure L’s unforeseen consequences.

    I also think that the following statement is misleading: “The ordinance will also establish a five-person administrative rent board, funded by annual landlord registration fees.” Would not those fees be legally passed on to the renters whom this measure is designed to protect?

    • Confidential Commenter

      Exactly Mary. For the time being my units will remain vacant. If they go back on the market whatever the new costs are will be added to the rent charged just like everywhere else. The more educated voters in Alameda rejected their extremist Measure L type rent control ordinance and instead chose the smarter version. Unfortunately, like the nation as whole with the presidential and congressional elections, Richmond renters will have to learn the hard way that they’ve made an unwise choice.

    • Dumb Landlord

      Mary you should check the ordinance because the way I read it single family homes are exempt from the ordinance.

    • Confidential

      Single Family Units are excluded from the Rent Control Portion of the ordinance, however, I don’t think any unit is excluded from the “Just Cause Eviction” provision. Check the Ordinance. Even HUD rules are very clear for “Just Cause Evictions”. And tenants will fight and file claims even when we landlords conduct evictions by the letter of the law, making us waste time and money in court. Measure L will make it even more difficult than HUD rules to evict bad tenants.

  4. Dumb Landlord

    This is extremely frustrating… I make no money from my rental property and I am very responsive to repairs when necessary. Hopefully, I am exempt from this ordinance given my property is a town home and hopefully considered a single family home that is exempt under Civil Code 1954.52. Awaiting a response from an attorney.

    Does anyone know if you serve someone an eviction notice before the ordinance goes into effect which is 10 days after November 8th, are you subject to the terms of the Rent Control Ordinance?

  5. Gordon

    Any rent control increase tied to CPI is a financial disability to the property owner. Operating expenses increases yearly and are not tied to CPI.
    Landlords has no motivation to make property improvements, just enough to fix the problem. Richmond was just coming to par with surrounding cities.

  6. Ridiculous

    Rent control cities- Berkeley has the university, SF is SF, Oakland has sports, entertainment, jack London, but Richmond? Richmond has a refinery? Rent Control was a way to force landlords to sell so they could get the new property tax. Why do land owners have to pay for their entitlement programs? Most land owners are not rolling in the dough.

    • Confidential Commenter

      No, Measure L had nothing to do with getting owners to sell. The RPA honestly believes it will help Richmonds neediest citizens. Their intentions are sincere. The problem is they refuse to accept the fact that it will do no such thing but rather quite the opposite over time. That is what has happened in San Francisco, Berkeley, and now in Oakland.

      • Confidential Commenter

        Although I do agree some small owners will decide to sell rather than chance the higher costs and risks. I know some who already have done just that.

  7. Outraged Landlord

    This is an outrage! There is no housing crisis in Richmond as politicians want the voters to believe. Measure L is just a tool of politicians to recruit more votes. Now landlords will seek the measure L minimum mandated increase every year, instead of a modest increase every 3 or 4 years, as I would usually do for my tenants (in the past). Shame on the politicians for creating this adverse consequence for Richmond’s renting citizens.

    • Confidential Commenter

      Largely agree except that there is no doubt there is a housing crisis in Richmond. To one degree or another there has been one here since WW2. That is why Measure L handily won. People are understandably angry and worried, they see the words ‘rent control’ and of course they will vote for it. The problem is rent control can be approached in a number of ways, and unfortunately Measure L is not a particularly helpful one as you noted.

  8. Larry C

    This measure is unfortunate, it circumvent the courts where there are judges who rule on evictions. I have a small fourplex all my tenants have enjoyed under market rents for years. Now in addition to all the other high taxes and charges I am paying to this city, now I will have to pay another fee to support this measure. As a unit comes available I will have no choice, rent at market value or leave it vacant. May just sale and never invest in multi family units in this city moving forward.

  9. DD

    I don’t understand how city of Richmond, politicians can dictate my real estate business. Do you consider the expense the landlords has such as property taxes, mortgage, maintenance, or destructive tenants. Have you considered how the city of Richmond raise taxes. this is not a win/win situation here. This is a business and like any other business in this city an investment in hopes of making a small profit.

  10. Sandra Davenport

    I”m a brand new landlord deciding on rent prices right now. I’m going to set it as HIGH as possible. Sad that I have to do that. That’s what rent control does.

Comments are closed.