Battling the Rent Control Defeating Goliath

Tenant Protection Updates in San José

Editor's Note:

A summary of the renter protections defended by the Silicon Valley Renters' Rights Coalition in the last contentious city vote and what's still ahead in the fight to make the lives of the most vulnerable renters more stable.

On Tuesday Nov. 14th in San José, a small group of renters and advocates led by the Silicon Valley Renters' Rights Coalition  battled victoriously against one of the largest lobbyist in the state and the outcome was a draw – we didn’t loose any renter protections in place. It’s not an easy feat against an experienced rent control defeating Goliath, the California Apartment Association.

This was the third major vote around tenant protections in almost three years because government progress is served slowly in San José. Both sides of the issue knew it would be a long day ahead. Landlords were reported to have arrived at the city council chambers by 11am, and more than 120 speaker cards had been turned in before the item was called. There was an overflow room set up and then a second over flow room for those who couldn’t make it into the chambers. Because previous council meetings on the issue have been hostile environments, where landlords berate not only tenants but the council and housing department staff as well SJPD officers are now a common sight, along with extra security.

Let’s be clear on what this ongoing fight is about: stabilizing rents for the most vulnerable renters in the city of San José.

Rent control is limited to buildings built before 1995 because of state law pushed for by landlord lobbyists. In San José, our rent control covers buildings built before 1979 with three or more units under the Apartment Rental Ordinance (ARO). Arguments about supply and demand do not have a place in this other than to distract from the responsibility of improving the lives of tenants living in the worst apartment buildings across the city. Forty-one percent of the rent controlled units are the worst maintained apartments according to the Study of the Apartment Rental Ordinance of the City of San José in January of 2016.  

The complexity of what was before council with two ordinances and multiple memos from councilmembers maybe was too much for one meeting, and although there were no tears of joy when all was said and done, it was not a defeat.

San José residents stood up to the greedy, stood up to out of town interests, and stood up to our city representatives who aid those outside pockets that fill their own.

At the end of that night we can say that:

  • The allowable rent increases remain at 5% annually for rent controlled units.
  • Landlords will not be able to pass on maintenance costs to their tenants.
  • Landlords will not be able to use “banking” to increase rent in one lump sum if they did not increase rent one year.
  • Just cause eviction protections remain, any apartment building with three or more units has to give tenants a legal reason for eviction.
  • Children can be added to the household in a rent controlled apartment, without being subject to pay more rent or be at risk of eviction.
  • The rent registry is moving forward to help keep track of what rents actually are.

In a state of emergency, like the housing crisis we face in San José and all over the region, solutions that can lessen the burdens faced in keeping a roof over your head today should be welcomed, but as long as housing continues to be a business those with the money will defend their last dollar made on the backs of people. Having the rent increase drop from 8% to 5% earlier this year, landlords pushed to pass maintenance, repairs, and upgrade costs onto tenants. Many things on those lists were basic habitability issues of keeping a home safe, like a roof, plumbing and heating. Landlords also want to pass on utility costs to tenants where there is usually no way to measure individual usage; in some cities this practice is illegal.

Meanwhile some on the city council are more than happy to put the issue of rent control behind them. The Mayor in particular publicly repeats that rent control only applies to a third of apartments suggesting a third isn’t worthy of living with dignity, isn’t worth the time spent to improve the lives of those families. Liccardo brings our attention to the housing plan he slapped his name on. One that includes doubling up on high rises downtown. High rises that according to a study prepared for the San José Unified School District aren’t homes for families. In the last 8 years, most of the new apartment developments built or scheduled to be built within the district don’t have families with children nor are attracting them. The same goes for the condos and townhomes slated to be built in the next 7 years in the same district that is loosing record numbers of students.

And what’s next? We do not rest, and the California Apartment Association certainly does not rest. They mobilize their members from across the state in attempts to defeat tenant protections all over the state. Not only bussing landlords into different cities, but asking landlords to speak at all city council meetings regardless if they live or own property in the city. In San Jose, several admitted on the podium to these facts.

In the spring, a part of the Tenant Protection Ordinance was already scheduled to come back before the Council and now more is on the list:

  • A vague portion on criminal activity proposed by the Mayor and Councilmember Jones (District 1).
  • A piece about landlords not threatening to call ICE on tenants, which is now illegal by state law (but don’t doubt for a second that it could be up for debate by some on the council.)
  • And the tolerated practice of passing on utilities costs to tenants (known as RUBS) will also be debated.

In this latest round we got to confirm who is consistently against renter protections by their votes: Councilmembers Johnny Khamis (Distirct 10), Dev Davis (District 6), Lan Diep (District 4) and Mayor Sam Liccardo.

Those whose votes spoke louder than words on the side of renters were Councilmembers Don Rocha (District 9), Sergio Jimenez (District 2), Sylvia Arenas (District 8), Raul Peralez (District 3), and Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco (District 5).

We have a changing council to look forward to, one that increasingly reflects the diversity of the city and whose life experience doesn’t easily give them the ability to ignore the reality of the “disadvantaged” in this city.

We are not going to move this city from being pro business to pro people in 3 years, but we are definitely moving in that direction and we call on residents to organize, building by building and block by block because strength in numbers is real and the momentum cannot be stopped.

The Silicon Valley Renters’ Rights Coalition includes the Affordable Housing Network, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee, Latinos United for A New America, PACT, Working Partnerships, and De-Bug.

Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee has monthly know your rights clinics and tenant organizing meetings on the 4th Thursday of the month (November's falls on Thankstaken, and was postponed)

The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley has a Friday morning eviction clinic at 152 N. 3rd Street, 3rd Floor, San José, CA 95112 from  9am-12pm. Call ahead for an appointment, 408.280.2424.

The Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County

Check the city website to see if your building is under rent control 

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