Renters, apartment owner square off over San José rent control

Mercury News May 13, 2015

SAN JOSE — Dozens of renters packed a City Council committee meeting Wednesday urging city leaders to broaden the city’s rent control and approve other tenant relief as they struggle to make ends meet in Silicon Valley’s sizzling apartment market.

But nearly a dozen rental property owners argued against rent control at the council’s Rules and Open Government Committee meeting, arguing it doesn’t increase housing supply, makes it difficult to invest in properties and hasn’t worked in other cities.

“I hope you consider how rent control has backfired in communities across California,” said Javier Vega, a property owner for 30 years.

Though the committee heard more than an hour of public testimony, it couldn’t take action. The city attorney advised that because three of the five committee members had discussed rent control proposals, committee action Wednesday would breach the state’s open-meeting law.

Instead, the proposals will go to City Manager Norberto Duenas, who can either schedule them for a future council meeting, referring them to back to a council committee, or take no action at all.

Two affordable housing proposals from the mayor and a few council members pointed to similar ideas — expanding rent control and strengthening tenant protections. But the differences between the plans came to light as the issue drew public attention.

Councilman Raul Peralez wants to expand San José’s rent control to include 10,000 more units and reduce allowable rent increases from 8 percent to 4 percent annually. Peralez also proposes an anti-discrimination law for those using Section 8 housing subsidy vouchers and a law to prevent tenants from being evicted without cause.

A separate memo from Mayor Sam Liccardo, signed by council members Charles “Chappie” Jones, Magdalena Carrasco and Margie Matthews, directed directed city administrators to “accept” Peralez’s proposal for study and outlined some additional ideas.

But Liccardo says he has concerns with the legalities of expanding rent control and Jones hasn’t yet made up his mind. Both signed the memo saying they only want to “explore” the idea.

Peralez also called for a six-month timeline to begin the work, but the mayor and other council members didn’t go that far in their proposal.

Rent control has been a hot topic around the country, with strong objections coming from landlords and property owners. But advocates say the regulations are sorely needed in San José, a city where the average rent is $2,230 and continues to rise.

More than 70 people rallied outside City Hall on Wednesday, chanting “renters rights now” and holding signs. One woman shared her story of escaping domestic violence in Nevada and renting an apartment as a single woman in San José.

Speaking through a Spanish translator, Maria Luz said her rent went up recently and she may be forced to leave. Luz and other advocates support Peralez’s proposal because it sets a concrete timeline.