The Rent Control Debate: Perspective from Jeff Wright


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Lately there has been a whirlwind of activity centered around the possible implementation of Just Cause Eviction and Rent Control ordinances in the city of Richmond.  Those of us who pay close attention to the political landscape in Richmond and the multitude of issues that it impacts including real estate, recognize the subject matter of Just Cause and Rent Control as being an old topic going back well over a decade.

There is structure, planning and strategy as to how these issues come to the forefront.  It is not a random sequence of events, it is by design.  As an example one organization, CAUSA JUSTA JUST CAUSE is a group that focuses on tenants’ rights and immigration issues.  They have been promoting Just Cause and Rent Control for years and have succeeded in pushing it through in some communities.  I would encourage everyone to visit their website at www.cjjc.org and view the various tabs especially the ABOUT tab that includes the mission statement as well as a statement on ‘what we believe.’  The OUR WORK tab includes a section on their Housing Rights Campaign.  Undoubtedly you will gain insight as to their world view and vision for society.   

Exactly what is Just Cause as it pertains to rental housing?  Is something going on that’s unjust?  The primary focus is centered on a landlord’s ability to regain possession of their real estate from a tenant without having to provide a stated reason in the notice to terminate tenancy. The language in a standard form rental agreement that both the landlord and tenant agree to reads as follows:  “Tenant may terminate the tenancy by giving written notice at least 30 days prior to the intended termination date.  Landlord may terminate the tenancy by giving written notices as provided by law.”  Current California law requires that the landlord provide the tenant with 30 days written notice if the tenant has occupied the property for less than a year and 60 days written notice if the tenant has occupied the property for a year or longer.  Neither party has to provide the other with a reason if they should decide to terminate the tenancy under that provision of the rental agreement.  What’s unjust about that?

If the landlord and tenant choose to negotiate a longer notification period under the termination of tenancy provision at the time that the rental agreement is being prepared isn’t that their prerogative?  I am not aware of any law that prohibits increasing the length of time for notification of a termination of tenancy.

The proponents of Just Cause want to replace the current statewide provision with a local one that will require the landlord to provide the tenant with a reason that is deemed as acceptable in order to terminate the tenancy, under the specified provisions as outlined in a Just Cause ordinance.  If this type of ordinance is not in place their belief is that landlords will use the current provision to terminate tenancies en masse in order to rent their property to tenants willing and able to pay rent at the current market rates.  The companion Rent Control ordinance will control or regulate how much nonexempt landlords will be able to increase their rents and specify under what terms and conditions they may do so.  

We are in a market driven economy.  Price fluctuation comes with the territory.  Supply and demand are the primary factors that govern the market.  It’s understood that food, clothing and shelter are basic survival essentials.  I’m just wondering, if it is deemed by some group that the supply and cost for food, clothing and perhaps fuel is not being handled in Richmond in accordance with their world vision, will the city of Richmond be passing ordinances to regulate those essentials too?

So, here we go again.  The promotion of Just Cause and Rent Control in Richmond essentially follows the same playbook with many of the same players as the campaign to seize mortgages using eminent domain.  It is a strategic, planned, coordinated and well-orchestrated effort to advance a vision by utilizing local government as the far reaching arm to manifest their desired outcome.  One of the primary question raised about the eminent domain plan was how many people were going to actually benefit and at the expense of who?  With regard to Just Cause and Rent Control the question that begs to be answered is how many people will actually benefit and at whose expense?

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the issue of Just Cause and Rent Control is nothing new in Richmond.  In the past it has reared its head and tested the political winds.  It has never garnered enough support to move forward and invariably would end up back in “hibernation.”  With the current composition of the Richmond City Council being what it is today, It is reasonably safe to say that the winter freeze is over and that it is springtime for those who are engaged in promoting Just Cause and Rent Control ordinances in the city of Richmond, even though the net effect may end up being rather chilling for the city. 

Jeffrey Wright: Richmond Real Estate Broker

 

Photo courtesy Richmond Confidential.

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