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Concord analyzes rental policies in light of state law

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The Concord City Council decided to eliminate the Rent Review Program as the city continued to refine new rental policies at the Feb. 11 meeting.

The Rent Review Program, which will end with the fiscal year on June 30, addressed rent increases exceeding 10 percent within a 12-month period. All decisions were non-binding.

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The staff recommendation to drop the program was based on the passage of Assembly Bill 1482, which went into effect on Jan. 1. AB 1482 caps rent increases at 5 percent plus cost of living up to a max of 10 percent each year, whichever is less. Rent for existing tenants cannot be increased more than two times in a 12-month period.

“Staff believes the state legislation delivers what the council was interested in in terms of a rent cap,” housing consultant Craig Whittom said.

Councilman Dominic Aliano called the city’s program “a waste of time and money. Councilman Edi Birsan added: “This thing was bad to begin with, and we need to just kill it.”

Meanwhile, the Concord council wasn’t as eager to accept the staff proposal to stop collecting rental data through the business license process. Citing “data limits and costs,” staff said it couldn’t compile year-over-year rent increases or statistics from other communities with the existing software.

Several council members noted the importance of seeing how rental rates are changing, and Aliano called a rent registry “a win-win for everybody in the city.”

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister wondered if the Volunteers in Police Service (VIPs) could gather the data, while Mayor Tim McGallian suggested an online database.

“This is why we have high school kids and computer projects,” Birsan said. “I don’t think it’s a complicated thing.”
However, city manager Valerie Barone countered: “I don’t think it’ll be as simple as you’re hoping it is.” But Barone said she would direct staff to “look at the simplest way possible” to annually collect basic housing data.

“This way, we would have a fact-based system by which to back up the information that we receive from the public,” said Councilwoman Carlyn Obringer.

Other issues the council considered include:

Tenant/landlord services. With the end of the Rent Review Program, staff said the city would still “support tenants in landlord/tenant disputes through other resources.” The city currently contracts with Bay Area Legal Aid and Echo Housing, but McGallian suggested finding “a better group” and other council members agreed.

“We need a city interface between the tenant and the landlord before it gets to the courts, so we can solve it locally,” Birsan said.

Relocation assistance. AB1482 mandates relocation assistance or a rent waiver equal to one month rent when a landlord issues a notice to terminate for no-fault just cause for tenants of at least 12 months. The Concord council is considering $5,000 or two times the actual monthly rent, whichever is greater.

Evictions. AB1482 requires landlords to state an at-fault just cause in order to evict tenants who have occupied the premises for 12 months. Although there was no staff recommendation on the issue, several public speakers urged Concord officials to close “the gaping loophole” and offer protection for tenants with shorter occupancies.

“Sacrament’s solutions aren’t enough for Concord residents who need just cause evictions not in 12 months but on Day 1,” said Jervon Graves of the Contra Costa Central Labor Council.

At the end of the meeting, Birsan suggested adopting such a change. Only Aliano supported the move, so the issue was dropped.

AB1482 exempts properties that have been issued a Certificate of Occupancy in the last 15 years as well as single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums unless owned by an investment trust, corporation or LLC. All the city proposals adopt this premise.

Staff is expected to bring a Residential Tenant Protection Program Ordinance to the City Council in May.
Many speakers said the city’s current plans don’t go far enough to protect tenants.

“Where we are today is cause for deep disappointment and will create real grief for many of the tenants living under the burden of rent hikes and unjust evictions,” said Jess Jollett of Lift Up Contra Costa.

Others urged the council not to enact any legislation for a year or two – “to see how the state laws pan out,” as Dennis Gremer put it.

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