East Bay city approves rent stabilization rules – The Mercury News

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ANTIOCH — Antioch tenants struggling to pay their bills could see some relief as a result of rent stabilization protections the City Council approved Tuesday.
The protections came on a split vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Mike Barbanica and Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock dissenting, after dozens of residents and advocates crowded City Hall, many carrying signs and sporting yellow or purple shirts representing some of the 15 nonprofit groups that supported capping annual rent increases for tenants.
Under the new rules that are now in effect, there is a rent cap of 3%, or 60% of the consumer price index, with only one rent hike allowed a year. It is the same cap that Oakland uses and one proposed in Richmond.
As at earlier rallies and council meetings, many told of exorbitant rent increases – as much as $500 a month or more – and landlords who didn’t address cockroach infestations, broken appliances, leaky plumbing and other problems.
Proponent Ralph Hernandez spoke of one long-term neighbor whose rent increased by $1,000 – from $1,800 – an amount they couldn’t afford, which resulted in financial troubles and the eventual breakup of the marriage, he said.
“There are landlords that take advantage of renters,” he said. “This is evident from some people I know and have spoken to. They need help from the city. They need some kind of intervention.”
Frustrated tenants, backed by advocate groups like Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action (ACCE), East County Regional Group and Monument Impact, first spoke en masse to the council in late January. In June they rallied at two longtime apartment complexes where many tenants had seen large hikes or faced multiple rent increases in short periods.
Both then and this week, the advocate groups and tenants asked not only for rent stabilization but also for the city to establish a rent board to handle tenant appeals, for any protections to be retroactive to January, and for an immediate freeze of rents to avoid retaliation by landlords.
On Tuesday, the vast majority spoke about problems with out-of-area corporate landlords, many of whom managed Low-Income Tax Credit Program-funded apartments, which are government subsidized and not included under state tenant protections.
Juan Gonzalez, a seven-year resident, said he had bounced from city to city before settling in Antioch with his family of three, but he now struggles to pay the rent and other expenses even though he worked the entire pandemic, he said.
“It’s scary every day waking up and thinking that I’m not going to have a place to live tomorrow,” he said, noting his rent takes more than 50% of his salary. “Knowing that I can get evicted because I don’t have enough money to pay my rent.”
One woman said she fell behind on her rent, was evicted and for the past two months has lived in her car with her family.
“I’m still working; I’m struggling to get my kids to go to school,” she said. “And it’s very hard. It’s terrifying. It’s terrible out there, and there are so many people like us. … I want my home back.”
Not everyone supported rent stabilization, though.
Greg Lyons, a former landlord, said landlords need the flexibility to raise rents to pay for damages done by tenants.
Property manager Joe Stokley also was opposed, noting an overwhelming number of landlords “were good people.”
“I don’t believe that it’s in the best interest of the public or the people to enact new laws, new rules and bureaucracy for something that is already in place to protect the people.”
Under the measure, only one rent increase will be allowed each year. But because of state law, not all rental units will be subject to the proposed rent stabilization regulations. That’s because the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act prohibits local restrictions on units built after Feb. 1, 1995, and on houses without accessory units, as well as on condominiums and cooperatives.
The local measure, however, would cover owner-occupied duplexes and Low-Income Tax Credit Program-funded developments, including many of the city’s larger complexes such as Casa Blanca, Delta View and Delta Pines apartments, .
Barbanica, while sympathetic to the tenants, said he worried that rent stabilization could harm mom-and-pop landlords, noting the majority of the troubles were coming from corporate landlords who realized much bigger profits.
“I would like to work, look for a way that we can meet in the middle where we’re not harming the mom-and-pops, but we’re not allowing this (exorbitant rent increases) by the corporate landlords, and we close those loopholes that allow them to do this,” he said.
Ogorchock warned that if the rent cap was too low some property owners might sell their complexes, redevelop or turn them into condominiums.
Tamisha Torres-Walker, though, said she supported the resolution as proposed and with a rent cap of 3%, or 60% of the consumer price index, for which numerous housing advocates as well as tenants had advocated. She also noted mom-and-pop landlords aren’t usually the ones raising the rents by exorbitant amounts.
“And so I don’t think they’ll be impacted much if any, at all, unless they decided they wanted to raise the rent 30% overnight,” she said.
But Barbanica said in addition to the tenants, it was the mom-and-pop landlords who experience inflation and cost increases that he is concerned about.

The mayor pro tem suggested the city set a limit on rental rate increases consistent with state law AB 1482 and eliminate the loophole to raise rents any higher than that law, which limited them to 5% plus the local CPI or 10%. His motion failed without a second.
Councilwoman Monica E. Wilson then motioned for an annual rent increase cap of 3% or 60 percent of the CPI, whichever is less, followed by the approval of the rent stabilization ordinance and waiving of its first reading. The motion passed 3-2, with Barbanica and Ogorchock opposed.
Mayor Lamar Thorpe noted that rent stabilization was the first part of a plan to strengthen overall tenant protections, but rules on just cause and anti-tenant harassment policies will be considered in the future.
Check back for updates.
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