Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 12, 2016

Through the cracks

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:02 am

As assumed by most people watching the whole rental housing discussion, ensuing ordinance passed by the City Council, and then the subsequent ballot initiatives there were going to be some families that fell through the cracks left by the City Council.  Mostly the families that currently occupied Costa Hawkins exempt units like single family homes and units built after a certain date.

On the agenda for the City Council next week is the case of a family at the mercy of the landlord — looks like one of those local Alameda based mom n’ pop variety — who is raising the rent $550 after three years of annual $250 rent increases.

The RRAC did agree that the $550 increase per month was excessive and recommended a $275 rent increase instead.

I will point out that this $275 increase — which was supposed to be staggered over two six-month period — reflects a 10% rent increases which was sort of the complaint that the Renters Coalition had about the RRAC in the first place.

Here’s the rental history:

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 5.04.59 PM

As mentioned in the staff report, these tenants weren’t protected before the City Council ordinance was passed, nor are they protected after the passed ordinance.  The best thing that the City can do at this point is send a letter urging that the landlord abide by the decision of the RRAC but, of course, this is voluntary.

So much for the narrative that the major culprits of unsustainable rent increases are large out of town faceless corporations.


  1. It’s to say for sure without knowing the specs of the house, but a glance at Craigslist SFH’s for rent in Alameda indicates that $3300 is on the cheap side:

    Comment by dave — April 12, 2016 @ 6:20 am

    • If this is a 3 bd 2 ba house, I think that it is on the low side at this moment. It may also be the hold vs. sell/removal from the rental market point for this owner, as it is probably enough below the monthly standard mortgage plus property tax for a potential buyer.

      Comment by MP — April 12, 2016 @ 6:47 am

    • 4 bd 2 ba

      Comment by MP — April 12, 2016 @ 7:13 am

  2. You might add in your penultimate paragraph, “nor, as single family home tenants, would they be protected under ARC ballot initiative”. Under it, they may be in a marginally worse position, even apart from the supply reducing effect. Maybe I am wrong, but the ARC initiative appears to do away with the RRAC altogether “(p) This Charter Amendment shall supersede any ordinance passed by the Alameda City Council covering the area of rents or evictions,” so even this avenue would be closed to the tenants in question.

    Comment by MP — April 12, 2016 @ 6:32 am

  3. Just checked on zillow — it’s a four bedroom house. Wouldn’t be surprised if the owner is planning on selling. Four bedroom homes are selling for a premium these days.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 12, 2016 @ 7:43 am

  4. When you live in a house rather then an apartment sometimes the landlords expenses change radically year after year. The cost to get a contractor or any work done on the property has gone up dramatically in the last few years. This year we have to paint our house and it will cost $10,000 or more, people are having to replace the green yards with something else. If you live in a huge complex the costs are spread out to the various rentals but when you are a small time landlord it gets spread to a few. Water has gone up, electric, cable, ect. The cost for a gallon of paint goes up every time we buy some. Renters don’t see this and they don’t understand when they approve a parcel tax the landlord a lot of times ends up paying more.

    Comment by joelsf — April 12, 2016 @ 9:31 am

  5. A 4/2 at The Summer House is $3295 for ~200 fewer sq. feet and all the disadvantages of apt living (noise, parking etc). And that’s leaving aside SH’s sterling reputation.

    Unless the house in question is a D-U-M-P $3300 is a good deal.

    Comment by dave — April 12, 2016 @ 9:38 am

  6. Tough crowd. The point is not that the asking rent is now at or below market. The point is to put yourself in the shoes of the tenant. Three years ago they made a housing choice for their family, probably set roots in the community. In three years their housing costs increased 50%. That’s insane and unsustainable for almost anyone. But, I guess those Victorians are not gonna paint themselves. Enjoy Vallejo family.

    Comment by BMac — April 12, 2016 @ 9:48 am

    • Picture this scenario:

      Three years ago your employer made a hiring choice for her business, probably got very comfortable with you in that job. In three years the economy has surged and now you can earn 50% more salary. That’s insane & unsustainable for almost any business.

      Would you turn down a big raise, or refuse to change jobs for better pay out of empathy for your boss?

      Didn’t think so….

      Comment by dave — April 12, 2016 @ 10:18 am

  7. Nice to hear from all the corporate up-and-comers here. The problem is that a community is made of all types of people: that’s its strength. Rent increases that shoot up like this are highly de-stabilizing and harm everyone not just the family in question.

    Comment by Laura Thomas — April 12, 2016 @ 10:30 am

  8. If house lease agreements are rewritten by the government to make them life estates, there will be few houses available for lease, and only at very high prices.

    Comment by Ed Hirshberg — April 12, 2016 @ 11:18 am

  9. So the landlord has raised the rent multiple times and does not appear to have addressed any of the extensive maintenance issues listed, including mold (in a house with kids) ? How is that not anything but greed?

    Comment by librarycat — April 12, 2016 @ 12:40 pm

  10. 9 because they are “mom and pop” and we all know that automatically makes them exempt from being capable of greed.

    Comment by MI — April 12, 2016 @ 12:46 pm

  11. Is a demand to control another person’s property not greed?

    Comment by dave — April 12, 2016 @ 12:52 pm

    • If I buy the property next door to your house can I put up a 3 story condo unit on it?

      Comment by brock — April 12, 2016 @ 1:08 pm

      • Give it a try.

        Comment by dave — April 12, 2016 @ 1:11 pm

        • I predict that certain local laws and boards would thwart my efforts to control my own property. Are you against those laws and boards exerting that type of control of my property?

          A lot of landlords are in favor of those laws and boards. They restrict the supply of housing, which allows LL to turn around and let their tenants know that they are no longer paying market rate rents, and charge more for new tenants.

          They’ve increased the amount they can charge for rent through control of other people’s property.

          Comment by brock — April 12, 2016 @ 1:39 pm

        • I hear that or a similar point a lot in this debate: that landlords as a class – as opposed to City residents generally and for diverse reasons — cause restrictive zoning to be enacted in order to contain supply and increase rents. As a result, so the argument goes, landlords as a class deserve what they get in terms of rent control, and tenants as a class are likewise justified in seeking and obtaining subsidies from the landlord class that colluded to cause those high rents. There is some surface appeal to that type of justification (or scapegoating), but I doubt there is much to support it.

          Comment by MP — April 12, 2016 @ 11:06 pm

        • Not my intent to portray landlords as a class, or imply that only landlords support restrictive zoning and planning.

          Is my intent to debunk the the idea that tenants are trying to benefit by corrupting the American Ideals of the free-market, private-property, while landlords are pure adherents to those Ideals.

          These tenants are trying to save $280 per month through the RRAC. How does that stack up against the annual increases in property values, and market rents, accrued to their landlord through anti-free-market, anti-private-property, pro-NIMBY zoning and planning decisions?

          Comment by brock — April 13, 2016 @ 10:25 am

        • Brock, I wasn’t trying to characterize your argument as claiming that only landlords support restrictive zoning, although it may have come off that way. But I would go further and guess that at least a significant number of Alameda landlords would want the ability to add units to what they have and would rather not be constrained by zoning restrictions.

          I think that I am correct in reading part of your argument as being that landlords have schemed to constrain supply (“They’ve increased the amount they can charge for rent through control of other people’s property”) and for that reason should have no objection to (or deserve) rent controls. It’s that claim that I haven’t seen much support for.

          Comment by MP — April 13, 2016 @ 11:57 am

    • no, sort of a silly thing to say. Rental properties are a business- all business is regulated (except landlords apparently). Everything we do is regulated- seat belts, speed limits, medicines, food, prices of water, gas, property taxes, where we can build, what we can build, how tall it can, if we can smoke, where we can smoke, you name it, it’s regulated- why shouldn’t landlords be also?

      If you are going to jack the rents- you need to do the work to earn the raise (clean up the issues, maintain the property).

      Comment by librarycat — April 12, 2016 @ 1:40 pm

      • Except for the monoply utilities, the examples you list are regulations of conduct rather than price. Landlords’ conduct is already regulated: fire alarms, non-discrimination laws, etc

        Rent control, though, is a regulation of price, which has well documented deleterious effects, and when combined with lessees having what amounts to a perpetual option at zero (in economic terms, negative) cost, that is a horse of a very different color.

        Comment by dave — April 12, 2016 @ 1:49 pm

      • Talking about smoking. How about a price cap on cigarettes to keep them affordable. Maybe 30 cents a pack. They used to sell for that.

        Comment by Ed Hirshberg — April 12, 2016 @ 2:43 pm

    • Landlords as a voting group are a pretty small number. I do not know how many LL’s are voters here but I’d be very surprised if they number more than a couple thousand, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s less than one thousand. That they are the key to Measure A support just isn’t credible.

      But homeowners are a large voting bloc and I think it’s fair to say they do support MA et al. Their primary motivation, though, isn’t greedy manipulation of supply & demand, it’s their quality of life & desire to keep the status quo. People who borrow a ton of money to live in a nice town are naturally in favor of keeping it nice. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating:

      We live in a unique & wonderful situation. We have a small town feel just yards from a major city and a couple exits from one the of the world’s foremost cities. There are 70,000 people here but when I run into numerous friends & neighbors at grocery store & my kids make lemonade and sell it on the sidewalk, it feels more like 7000. Our town is highly walkable, visually attractive with a low key pace of life. Once that paradise gets paved, it’s gone. Once our commutes turn into gridlocked nightmares, the low key pace is gone. It’s only natural and to be expected that people who have invested in that want to keep it.

      There is obviously some overlap here. That same desire to keep the status quo does relate somewhat to landlords who allegedly want to restrict supply, but the motivation isn’t the same. And renters benefit from that too. I’ll hazard a guess that the residents in the ugliest, boxiest boogeyman of Measure A don’t want the rest of the town to be transformed into that. Even if they aren’t in a Leave-it-to-Beaver SFH, they appreciate the tree lined streets and attractive neighborhoods too, and that probably has a lot to do with why they live here instead of a denser place. Obviously they don’t feel so blessed when they get a rent increase, nobody is ever happy about that, but the point stands.

      There’s never been an up or down vote on keeping MA but note that it’s been expanded since its promulgation. The people voted for that. The Suncal initiative lost something like 5 or 6 to 1. One of its primary planks was an overturn of Measure A west of Main. While we don’t and can’t know just how many votes were against for that reason and how many of them were renters, but a majority like that, however murky, indicates very strong support for MA from the broader community, renters and owners. Lastly, ask yourself why Measure A opponents have never put a repeal on the ballot. It’d because they know they’d lose handily, and a lot of those no votes would be from renters.

      Comment by dave — April 13, 2016 @ 6:16 am

      • That post above was a reply to MP’s post about LL’s and zoning that begins: I hear that or a similar point a lot in this debate

        Comment by dave — April 13, 2016 @ 6:18 am

  12. defend it all you want Dave, we all morally know what greed is, and it is being practiced by some landlords. Do they have a right to be greedy, of course they do. Renters also have a right to fight back, and that is what they are doing.

    Comment by John P. — April 12, 2016 @ 1:02 pm

  13. I’m not defending it, John, so much as being a realist about it. In matters of money, we’re all greedy. We all look to buy cheap and sell dear. If raising rents is greed, so is taking an owner’s property.

    Comment by dave — April 12, 2016 @ 1:09 pm

  14. Dave, please don’t try to twist my words or meanings, I did not say “raising rents is greed” I said some landlords are practicing greed. another thing you said is just not true, “in matters of money, we’re all greedy” you may be, but no I am not. Now to the last part of your post, “so is taking an owners property”, who is taking an owners property??.

    Comment by John P. — April 12, 2016 @ 1:29 pm

  15. Isn’t raising rents the way “some” landlords “practice greed?” How the hell else would they “practice greed?” That is an odd statement.

    If you’ve ever comparison shopped or negotiated a price or taken a tax deduction, you were acting to retain more money for yourself. An landlord who raises rents is doing same. Buyer’s greed and seller’s greed are just two sides of same coin: we all try to get the best deal we can.

    The ordinance, should it pass, gives renters perpetual leases at their option, at prices disadvantageous to the property owners. Owners, in turn, lose those options. Result is renters having significant control over the property of others without paying for said control. That is a taking, by definition.

    Comment by dave — April 12, 2016 @ 1:40 pm

  16. Why don’t we tie rent increases at the same rate the city raised it’s Building and permit fees . Do a one time look back since the landlords owned the property and let the homeowners and landlords lower rents or raise rents to those rates or market rates whichever is lower. Then we have a bar to measure against .

    Comment by bar to measure against — April 12, 2016 @ 1:42 pm

  17. Isn’t the important point here is that, whether rent-control is good or bad, the mom-and-pop category is an irrelevance? There have been some pretty awful moms and pops in the world.

    Comment by BC — April 12, 2016 @ 2:03 pm

    • Agree that mom/pops should have same treatment as larger owners. Everyone’s property rights should be equal. In the same vein, an exception for MNP would create different classes of tenants. (Costa Hawkins, et al already does that, no sense in compounding it).

      That said, the idea of mom & pop landlords is useful to the discussion. Many folks, including some on this board, make blanket assumptions about landlords having plutocrat-level wealth and feel entitled to stick it to them for that reason. Keeping MNP in the discussion is a reminder that providing housing is a legitimate business, as legit as anyone else’s, and is the source of middle class income for many owners.

      Comment by dave — April 12, 2016 @ 3:46 pm

  18. Another theme was whether the tenants in the above example “fell through the cracks left by the City Council” and, if so, the implied question is what to do about it. A rallying cry for the ARC initiative has, in fact, been that the City Council did not do enough. In the mom and pop case above, however, the ARC ballot measure could not and would not do more than the existing City ordinance, because state law precludes rent control on single family houses, and it would probably do less because it appears to do away with the RRAC hearing procedure altogether.

    Comment by MP — April 12, 2016 @ 2:20 pm

  19. Laura, If you look at the total rent they don’t pay much. The % may look huge, but if you look at how much they are paying it is not. A homeless person getting an apartment is paying 100% more than what they were paying before. It is a matter of perspective.

    Comment by joelsf — April 12, 2016 @ 3:42 pm

    • Actually, the homeless person would be paying infinitely more than they were before since the denominator would be zero

      Comment by JohnB — April 12, 2016 @ 3:56 pm

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