Tenants, landlords slam Marin rent hike mediation plan
Updated: Jun 2, 2018
POSTED: 12/05/17, 6:11 PM PST | UPDATED: ON 12/07/2017
Author: Richard Halstead
Publication: Marin Independent Journal
The Board of Supervisors meet in San Rafael’s Marin Civic Center (Frakie Frost/Marin Independent Journal) 2015
Searching for a way to make a dent in Marin’s deepening affordable housing crisis, the Marin County Board of Supervisors is moving forward with a “mandatory mediation” ordinance.
The ordinance would require landlords seeking rent increases over 5 percent during a 12-month period to enter into mediation with their tenants. The mediation would be non-binding and would not prevent landlords from ultimately imposing whatever rent increase they want.
The plan drew criticism from housing activists and landlords.
MARIN RENTERS > MORE COVERAGE
After the board rejected a Community Development Agency staff recommendation for rent stabilization in 2015, housing advocates lobbied supervisors to approve a “just cause for eviction” ordinance. But Tuesday, the board also rejected that idea — at least for now — opting instead for mandatory mediation.
Currently, tenants who believe they have been treated unfairly by their landlord can seek mediation through Marin County Mediation Services, which is operated by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office. Mediation is voluntary, however, and landlords are under no obligation to participate.
Under the proposed “mandatory” mediation ordinance, tenants and landlords would be empowered to file suit to enforce the mediation requirement. Staff provided the supervisors with an option to put sharper teeth in the ordinance, requiring landlords to pay tenants relocation assistance if they refused to participate in mediation, but the supervisors rejected that idea.
Supervisors Katie Rice and Damon Connolly serve on the Board of Supervisors’ housing subcommittee, which oversaw preparation of the proposed ordinance.
“I’m concerned with the unintended consequences of any resolution that the board passes,” Connolly said. “We’ve got to be careful that we don’t lose rental units or increase rents.”
Likewise, Rice said, “The risk of unintended consequences that could potentially further constrain the housing market is a big concern.”
Regarding rent control, Rice said, “Frankly philosophically I don’t agree with it. I don’t believe it is an effective tool in the long term.”
Dozens of people spoke during the public hearing, which preceded the supervisors’ unanimous vote to approve the proposed ordinance on a first reading. A second hearing and final vote is scheduled for Dec. 12.
“To me mandatory mediation is an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp. I see this proposal as an all-too-safe effort that is inadequate to the scale of the housing crisis,” said David Schonbrunn, president of Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund.
Dave Coury of Corte Madera, a landlord and housing advocate, said, “The ordinance as written is toothless.”
Wendi Kallins of Forest Knolls, a member of the Coalition for a Livable Marin, said that her organization believes mandatory mediation alone would not have a significant impact and urged the board to take additional steps. These included adopting a just-cause eviction ordinance, enacting a six-month moratorium on rent increases and providing emergency funding to Legal Aid of Marin to help protect tenants’ rights.
“We call on your board to recognize this housing emergency and take bold steps to address it,” Kallins said.
Several speakers during the hearing said that without an attendant just-cause eviction provision tenants would be too afraid of retaliation to request mediation.
Landlords who spoke during the meeting, however, viewed the prospect of mandatory mediation as an ominous portent.
Hans Art, a San Rafael landlord, said, “Rent control is what we’re talking about here in little tiny steps because you’re going to come back next year and do something else. After awhile it will be indistinguishable from the situation we have in San Francisco, which has done nothing but drive rents up.”
Linda Rames of Mill Valley, who is a landlord, said, “You have in front of you the first reading of a rental housing ordinance that clearly asks you to recommend rent control in Marin County.”
Robert Elam, president of the Marin Rental Housing Association, a coalition of about 300 landlords, said, “Everyone that I’ve spoken to in my organization universally opposes this proposal as written. I recommend we consider the carrot rather than the stick.”
Along with the mandatory mediation ordinance, the Board of Supervisors is considering enhancing the county’s multi-unit housing inspection program, increasing coordination and collaboration with San Rafael and Novato code enforcement staffs, gathering data on rent increases and tenant evictions, and increasing outreach to educate tenants about their rights.
Currently, it is the job of a single Marin County employee to inspect some 8,659 rental apartment units throughout Marin every other year. The county has a memorandum of understanding with all of Marin’s municipalities with the exception of San Rafael and Novato to oversee any apartment complex with three or more units.
The city of San Rafael employs two people to inspect all of its approximately 10,000 rental apartments. At this time, neither the county nor San Rafael nor Novato track tenant complaints.
Connolly said, “To shape future rule making, we need data so we can make evidence-based decisions.”
To read original article posting, click here: http://www.marinij.com/general-news/20171205/tenants-landlords-slam-marin-rent-hike-mediation-plan