Despite Richmond’s rent cap, some tenants still seek lower rates, citing maintenance issues
on October 3, 2019
In an aging apartment near Richmond’s Amtrak and BART trains, residents Crystal Torres and Edward Campos said they received regular rent increases on September 1, like all tenants covered by the city’s 3.5% limit on annual adjustments. But the neighbors contend that the mold, insects and rodents that share their dwelling prompted them to ask the city for a rent decrease instead.
“We have damages in the house that need to be seriously repaired,” Campos said. “This building doesn’t have [any] insulation at all. So when it rains we have mold and it’s really bad. When it rains and I touch the wall, it’s all moist. I have my three-year-old living in that apartment.”
The annual rent-controlled adjustment ensures that city landlords get a fair return on their properties, said Nicolas Traylor, Executive Director of the city’s Rent Program. The law also helps the city promote housing stability, and creates incentives for landlords to provide necessary services and upkeep for all of their units, he said. However, Torres and Campos allege the system hasn’t worked that way for them on the corner of Espee Avenue and 20th Street.
The landlord, identified by city officials as Mohamed H. Mosleh, didn’t respond to multiple phone calls by Richmond Confidential seeking comment.
Torres and Campos said they filed rent adjustment petitions with the city’s Rent Program on September 3, asking for rent decreases due to an alleged lack of service to the building and what they charge are code violations.
Under the rent adjustment petition process, both landlords and tenants can argue for a rent increase or decrease citing code, habitability and service issues.
City-wide, 74 petitions from tenants have passed the review process within the Rent Program for rent decreases since August 2018, according to Traylor. Fifteen of those petitions resulted in rent decreases, settlements, or refunds to tenants.
A recent inspection done by Richmond Planning and Building Services confirmed that there are broken doors and windows, mold, and many repairs that need to be done within the building and the units, building official for the city agency, Chris Castanchoa, said in an email.
Campos said that the landlord’s repairman recently repainted his walls, but they have already began peeling. Torres said that the landlord’s repairman recently fixed her broken door with duct tape.
Tenants do what they can to add amenities to the dwelling. In the middle of the patio are rows of plants and vegetables grown by Torres’ son. Some of her kids gather there with their pit bull terrier. Upside-down buckets invite residents outdoors to sit and escape the heat of the apartment.
“We look out for each other,” Campos said. “My kids play with these kids so we’ve bonded with each other, and we both understand the situation that we’re going through.”
Despite circumstances like these, many residents of Richmond favor the 3.5% annual adjustment rent increase as some were paying up to $500 or $1000 in annual rent increases, often imposing a financial burden, Rent Board Chair Lauren Maddock said.
Richmond’s rent control program was enacted under a 2016 ordinance that also created a Rent Board funded by a rental housing fee that landlords must pay on units enrolled in the Rent Program.
“Rent control slows down gentrification, serial displacement, and protects the political voice, health, and well-being of low-income communities of color and allows them to continue to be here in Richmond and to have their voice heard without the fear of being displaced,” Traylor said.
Campos’ and Torres’ petitions for a rent decrease is pending.
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