BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel says a ballot measure proposed by a group backed by landlords would effectively repeal the city’s year-old rent control law.
The measure would suspend rent control when more than 3% of the city’s rental housing supply is vacant — which, Siegel pointed out, it always is.
“The vacancy rate never goes below 3%, so the just cause eviction and rent control elements of the charter amendment would never apply, and so that’s why I call it a sneaky repeal,” Siegel told the Post. “They’ve got a whole lot of smoke and mirrors there.”
A group called Measure V Too Costly filed the initiative on March 30 to amend the city charter section applying to the rent control law passed by 53.6% of voters in 2016.
Measure V applies to units in multi-family properties with three or more units built before 1995.
City data shows that since 2009, vacancy rates across all rental housing in Mountain View have hovered between 3.9% in 2011 and 5.8% in 2016. It’s currently 4.4%, down from 4.7% last year.
Laura Teutschel, a communications consultant working for Measure V Too Costly, dismissed Siegel’s assessment, but said she didn’t know what the vacancy rates were.
“That’s his opinion. Does he have a crystal ball about vacancy rates? That’s what I would ask him,” Teutschel told the Post. “That’s conjecture on his part. The amendments that we offered make Measure V a more effective tool, vacancy rates notwithstanding.”
The existing rent control law gives the Rental Housing Committee the option of lifting rent control protections if the vacancy rate among affected units goes above 5%. Measure V Too Costly is proposing to lower that to 3% and make the lift mandatory.
That vacancy number would also be expanded to include all of the rental units in the city, not just the ones built before 1995. Newer units have a slightly higher vacancy rate because they’re more expensive, Siegel pointed out.
According to the Rental Housing Committee, units built before 1995 had an average vacancy rate of 4.3% since 2015, ranging from 3.9% in 2015 and 2016 to 4.8% last year. It’s currently 4.6%, down from 4.7% at the end of 2017.
“The proponents of Measure V seem like they were careful in choosing 5% as a level because vacancies could go above 5%, and that would be an indication that there’s less need for rent control because the market is starting to operate,” Siegel said. “It’s not that far from from 5%. It’s not like they chose 20% and it would be moot.”
Siegel said he was speaking for himself and not for the entire city or City Council in light of a controversy around Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, who ruffled feathers last month when she spoke out against rent control in an ad for Measure V Too Costly.
Tenant income restrictions
Other parts of the initiative were designed to attract votes, Siegel claimed. It would limit rental protections to families who earn less than the median household income, currently $125,200 when adjusted for family size.
It would also make it easier for landlords to evict problematic tenants and ensure that the $2.6 million organization that runs the rent control program doesn’t access general funds without City Council approval.
Rental Housing Committee members would be explicitly barred from being paid a salary.
In fact, the Rental Housing Committee is financed entirely by rental units. Landlords are charged $155 per year, which the initiative would reduce to $100 per year starting in 2019. Committee members aren’t paid a salary.
Improvements by landlords
Under the current rent control law, landlords are only allowed to charge higher rents for capital improvements that are necessary to bring the property into compliance with local codes affecting health and safety.
The initiative would strike that rule and allow landlords to improve their properties however they see fit and charge higher rents accordingly.
Once City Attorney Jannie Quinn drafts a title and summary, the group will need to collect 5,500 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.