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Hang In There, Renters

Though loathed by landlords and frowned upon by economists, rent control laws are spreading across the Bay Area.

 

Even as the housing crisis has sent rents soaring, only 8 of the Bay Area’s 101 cities have rent control. That may change this November, though, as newly drafted rental laws fan out across the region like so many Google buses. Five cities have measures on the ballot, and a sixth (Santa Rosa) passed rent control in August. If the ballot measures succeed, tenants in most units built before 1995 in those cities will win both a cap on rent hikes and new eviction safeguards. (After all, what good is cheaper rent without a roof to pay said rent on?) The renter renaissance may soon move back to San Francisco, where this fall Supervisor Aaron Peskin plans to bring legislation that would treat rent control for new buildings—a political third rail—as a bargaining chip between the city and developers.

But while renters may say yea to all of the above, a vast majority of economists say nay. According to real estate professor Christopher Palmer of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, rent control picks winners and losers ad hoc. “It’s not clear that those who get to live under rent control are the ones who need it the most,” he says. And even those renters merely tread water: “Rent control doesn’t improve affordability. It just keeps things from getting worse for the person who lives there.” If this sounds like mere survival, well, that’s exactly what tenants are fighting for. Here, a breakdown of how rent control is taking shape in six Bay Area cities.

Want to see this info in handy chart form? Visit the digital version of the magazine (and click to zoom in).


MOUNTAIN VIEW
 
2014 renter population:* 60 percent
Rise in media rent:** 58 percent
Measure V 
Maximum annual rent hike: 2–5 percent, based on inflation
Eviction protections: Only legit evictions allowed
Measure W
Maximum annual rent hike: 5 percent
Eviction protections: Some protections, but loopholes abound
The chatter: Measure W has a huge loophole: Landlords seeking to evict can instead comply with a law whose revisions are still forthcoming.

BURLINGAME
2014 renter population: 52 percent 
Rise in median rent: 28 percent
Measure R
Maximum annual rent hike: 1–4 percent, based on inflation
Eviction protections: Only legit evictions allowed
The chatter: Patron saint: Marie Hatch, the 97-year-old Burlingame woman who died fighting a sudden eviction.

SAN MATEO
2014 renter population: 45 percent 
Rise in median rent: 63 percent
Measure Q 
Maximum annual rent hike: 1–4 percent, based on inflation
Eviction protections: Only legit evictions allowed
The chatter: After the city’s many attempts to add tenant protections ended at loggerheads, fed-up residents pushed for Measure Q.

ALAMEDA  
2014 renter population: 53 percent 
Rise in median rent: 61 percent  
Measure L1
Maximum annual rent hike: 5 percent
Eviction protections: Still an eviction free-for-all
Measure M1
Maximum annual rent hike: 65 percent of inflation rate
Eviction protections: Only legit evictions allowed
The chatter: Measure L1’s tenets are already law; the city council put it on the ballot to compete with the far toothier M1.

RICHMOND
2014 renter population: 55 percent 
Rise in median rent: 47 percent
Measure L
Maximum annual rent hike: rate of inflation
Eviction protections: Only legit evictions allowed
The chatter: This measure is the backlash to the backlash. After the city passed rent control in 2015, opponents got it repealed.

SANTA ROSA
2014 renter population: 47 percent 
Rise in median rent: 44 percent
Ordinance 4072
Maximum annual rent hike: 3 percent 
Eviction protections: Only legit evictions allowed
The chatter: A challenge is all but certainly on the way from landlords and real estate groups.

* Estimated
** All per Zillow

 
Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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