Concord council OKs rent registry after fiery debate

CONCORD, CA – After a robust discussion over the merits of a Rent Registry Program and privacy concerns for those whose data might be under scrutiny, the City Council ultimately voted to move forward with collection efforts by mid-2021.

But if the nearly five hours of divisive public comments during the Jan. 12 meeting are any indication, this may not be the last time this issue gets an earful.

In the wake of the council’s action, one notable concern – a fear of looming tenant evictions in light of the ongoing pandemic – received an 11th-hour reprieve from Gov. Gavin Newsom. He ordered the current moratorium extended through June, just as the Jan. 31 expiration date had housing advocates worrying about a wave of evictions.

Hammering out the details

Under the Rent Registry Program, the city will collect information from property owners with at least four rental units. The details are akin to what is furnished when obtaining a business license.

The council accepted staff recommendations that include maintaining privacy of tenant unit numbers by redacting them in the portal while all other information would be available to the public, gathering property owner status, agent or property manager authorization, and general information about tenant charges. The council also agreed to add a question to property owners about the base rent at the move-in date. And they approved an additional two months for the window to be open so it is easier for property owners to submit the requested information to the website.

Concerns over privacy

The war of words that marked the public comment period reinforced the sharp contrast between the two sides.

Property owner Blaine Carter’s remarks captured the spirit of those not comfortable with the registry and its intended purpose, citing a redundancy with data already available from existing resources.

“I don’t want to be on the butt end of their tactics,” he said of tenant advocate groups that have previously made headlines for waging verbal assaults and using public disruption and intimidation to get their way.

Lisa Gottlieb, assistant manager at Sycamore Green Apartments, also expressed concerns about maintaining the privacy of the data of owners and tenants alike.

“I am concerned that once the data is out there, you won’t be able to get it back,” she said.

Similar to Carter, she also noted that information being sought for the registry can be gleaned from other sources like code enforcement files. Gottlieb appealed to the council to “start off small.”

How to manage the data

Those supporting the registry emphasized it is a tool for greater transparency to ensure effective future public policy related to housing and tenant issues rather than it being a guessing game.

“(Gathering) critical data is essential,” said Kristi Laughlin of Raise the Roof. “(It has to be) carefully executed to treat the problem effectively. It’s like a doctor not asking a patient about pre-existing conditions at an appointment.”

To the point of policy making, Mayor Tim McGallian made it clear that is the city’s domain and he is starting to wonder about the motives of everyone under the sun who wants the data.

“Let’s pump the brake on the overarching portal being available,” he said. “Let us have the policy conversation and not have it driven by the wrong direction. We will create policy based on what we find in the data.”