MOUNTAIN VIEW — Landlords will have to provide 90-day notices for evictions and allow tenants to sign six-month or one-year leases under an urgency ordinance approved Monday by the City Council.
The decision followed more than six hours of city staff presentations, expert testimony and several dozen sometimes impassioned 90-second entreaties from landlords, property managers, Realtors, developers, renters, teachers students and social workers.
The ordinance will be prepared by city staff and presented to the council for adoption on Oct. 27.
Other potential solutions to the city’s rental housing crisis, ranging from establishing rent stabilization to subsidy programs, are to be studied and discussed over the coming weeks and months.
Monday’s meeting, held in the Social Hall of the Senior Center, was called following the appearance at recent council meetings of hundreds of residents concerned about skyrocketing rents and a lack of affordable housing.
Linda Lauzze, the city’s administrative and neighborhood services manager, outlined the problem: “High rent increases are being reported throughout the Bay Area … 58 percent of Mountain View residents rent their homes and in the four years from 2011 to 2015, average monthly rents have increased almost 53 percent. As rents have increased, the number of households falling below the poverty line has also increased, compounding the problem.”
In a memo, Lauzze noted that while the city has low-income housing programs, only 351 affordable apartments have been created in the past 10 years.
City staff presented eight options for rent relief: a rent stabilization ordinance, just-cause eviction/right to lease/90-day notices, rental subsidies, a fair rental practices program, tenant relocation assistance ordinance revisions, mandatory mediation for rent disputes, priority in subsidized housing for displaced tenants and an urgency ordinance related to rent increases.
The council heard from three experts: Melissa Morris, an attorney with the Fair Housing Law Project; mediator Martin Eichner; and Joshua Howard, of the California Apartment Association.
Morris said, “We are not going to build ourselves out of this crisis,” a concept repeated later by other speakers, who claimed that new construction tends to be high-end. Morris advocated for a rent stabilization program.
Landlords should be required to prove just cause in an eviction, Morris added. That would protect renters who might be evicted just to give landlords a chance to rent units at higher rates, she said.
Eichner described how landlord-tenant mediation works in several cities, including Palo Alto and Los Gatos.
According to Howard, housing prices are the city’s biggest obstacle to growth. “We have more jobs than homes,” he said.
Still, Howard said that rent control or rent stabilization and just-cause eviction might make a bad situation worse, by forcing landlords to subsidize squatters and discouraging investment in new rental properties. He suggested expanding the city’s short-term rental assistance program.
In response to a question from Councilman Lenny Siegel about why some landlords charge new tenants higher rents, Howard said they “will charge what the market will bear.”
An estimated 300 people filled the Social Hall and more occupied an overflow room across the hall, watching a video feed. The line of people who wanted to speak started at the front of the room and curled around the back, with more joining as the evening wore on.
Crowds at the earlier meetings, when the issue was not on the agenda and the council could only listen, appeared to mostly include tenants seeking relief from rising rents. On Monday, when the issue could be discussed by the council, at least half of the speakers were landlords or their representatives, most of whom did not want rent control or just-cause eviction.
Some of the landlords talked about the costs of buying and improving properties, saying they would have no incentive to make improvements if they couldn’t raise rents.
The tenants cited several instances of extreme rent increases, the difficulty of finding affordable housing, and the desire to stay in Mountain View, where they have friends and children in schools.
The first speaker in line was an attorney, who said just-cause evictions would be a disaster: “Bad tenants would stay, good tenants would leave, because they are scared,” the attorney said. Later, a landlord said “pit bulls, pythons and psychopaths” are the main problem, and that no-cause eviction is a way to get rid of such problems “to protect my tenants.”
“Something much bolder must be done for the working poor of this city,” said Tom Meyers, executive director of the Community Service Agency, which helps run the city’s rent subsidy program and has seen a 28 percent increase in requests for aid over the past year.
Meyers said the number of homeless people in the area his agency serves has doubled in the past 18 months, and many of them have jobs.
In a discussion following public comment, Councilman Siegel said, “Good landlords don’t like rent control because they are good, and bad landlords don’t like rent control because they are bad.”
He also said he supports mandatory controls and rent stabilization, and just-cause evictions, to control the bad property owners.
Councilman Mike Kasperzak agreed that mandatory controls would be needed, because a voluntary program wouldn’t do anything about bad landlords.
Councilman Chris Clark wanted to find solutions short of rent stabilization first. “Stabilization is the thing you do when nothing else works,” he said. “First, take on the bad actors.”
Email John Orr at email@example.com.