Gives incentive for landlords to act on complaints

By Steven Tavares.

A growing number of Alameda renters say landlords are hiking rents to dizzying heights. The phenomenon would not be unique to Alameda. Sky-high rent increases are pricing out residents in Oakland and San Francisco and creating significant political turmoil for elected officials. But, unlike those major cities, Alameda’s city council is unsure whether the issue of landlords quickly ramping up monthly rents is actually as pervasive as renters assert.

“We don’t mean to vilify landlords,” said Councilmember Marilyb Ezzy Ashcraft following a number of public speakers Tuesday night who urged for greater protections for renters. She conceded, though, “A few bad apples will spoil the barrel.”

The Alameda City Council, however, approved slight amendments to an existing Rental Review Advisory Committee (RRAC) ordinance, giving landlords an incentive to appears before the appointed government body. Previously, landlords on the receiving end of renters’ official complaints about rent increases often simply failed to appear. Under the amended ordinance, landlords would run the risk of having their rent increases voided by the RRAC if they sidestepped attending their hearing.

The ordinance also now includes protections for those who rent single rooms from a homeowner to take complaints to the committee, although, it was not initially included in the proposed ordinance.

Councilmmeber Jim Oddie noted the omission by calling out Councilmember Tony Daysog, who rents out a room in his home. “So, his tenant has no recourse if he doubles the rent?” said Oddie. There was no animosity evident by Oddie’s comment and Daysog, who supported the additional language, laughed off the reference.

Going back to the previous administration under Mayor Marie Gilmore, the city council has taken remedial action on the rental crisis in Alameda, at least, choosing to instead compile data on the actual size of the problem regarding rent increases. Conversely, some island activists are advocating for various rent control measures. It is noteworthy that the Richmond City Council approved a rent control ordinance on the same night, becoming the first city in nearby Contra Costa County to do so. Richmond is also, arguably, the most progressive city council in the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, some councilmembers, like Oddie and Daysog, say rent control may not be the answer for Alameda. “Rent control is not the end-all, be-all in solving the issue of rising rents,” Oddie said Tuesday. “And I would contend that it probably doesn’t work in places where it is intended to.” Instead, he asked city staff for a wide-ranging set of options for the council to study the issue in the near future.

In addition, changing the set makeup of the RRAC from a split between renters and landlords may be on the table. Oddie and Ashcraft voiced support for making the appointment process more open, while allowing the council to interview applicants. The committee is currently composed of mayoral appointments approved by the council in a mostly perfunctory manner.

Alameda resident and renter Jon Spangler called the ordinance “watered down,” but conceded it was slight move forward. “There is still no way to stop egregious rent increases and robber baron behavior on the part of people who happen to own property and it just stinks,” said Spangler.

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Originally posted at East Bay Citizen.