Apparently you all took Gilbert’s warning to hide in your bunkers much too seriously. Despite the predictions of a large and unruly turnout, only one lawyer showed up to address rent control at the Nov. 20 Takoma Park City Council session. The pitchfork- and torch-wielding hordes of landlords and tenants are presumably sharpening their tines and trimming their wicks for the December 11th public hearing on the proposals that were unveiled Nov. 20.
The proposed revisions to the city’s rent stabilization ordinance were made by Berkley, California consultant Kenneth Baar, Ph’ D, attorney, expert on rent control, and author of such urban-planning page-turners as “Hungarian land use policy in the transition to a market economy with democratic controls (From planning to markets : housing in eastern Europe).”
The mayor was so pleased with the proposed revisions she did six cartwheels across the council podium. Actually, she just smiled, but for our reserved Mayor Kathy Porter that’s almost the equivalent of 6 cartwheels. She praised Dr. Barr for delivering what she felt was a fairer, simpler, more cost effective plan, as the council had requested.
In a nutshell. Dr. Baar recommends that the city’s rent stabilization ordinance be revised like so:
1. Raise the amount landlords can base annual rent increases on from 70% to 100% of the Consumer Price Index.
2. Conduct a study of utility cost increases incurred by local landlords so rents can be adjusted accordingly.
3. Eliminate the complicated capital improvement rent increase petition process.
4. Allow limited rent increases upon the vacancy of a rental unit.
5. Create a “uniform interest allowance” which repeals current complex and unfair adjustments for landlords’ various mortgage financing terms
6. Establishment and assess of an annual registration fee on rental units – which will be passed on to renters and used to defray city costs of rent control.
7. Change the exemption landlords have for owning one building to one based on the number of units they own (this does not affect the accesory apartment exemption).
8. Ditch the rule that says a landlord who chooses not to implement a rent increase in the year in which it is permitted can’t increase the rent later until the unit becomes vacant.
9. Allow the use of the year 2000 as the base year for hardship rent increase petitions.
10. Require sellers and brokers to inform potential buyers of rental property that Takoma Park has rent control.
Dear Readers, you can download a pdf of the proposals here.
Baar proposes, and the council embraced, making an important semantic change. He points out that what the city labels a “hardship” on landlords (as when they file a “hardship petition”) is really a “fair return.”
Fair return is a concept that, in Gilbert’s opinion, has not been mentioned enough (if at all) in the council’s deliberations. As much as we all want to keep rental housing at a fair price for renters, landlords should get a fair return as well. This is the idea behind dumping the Capitol Improvement Rent Increase Petitions. The thinking goes that landlords, if allowed a fair return (which they would get if rents are allowed to rise with the Consumer Price Index), would be able to cover the expenses that the Capitol Improvement petitions were supposed to. So, landlords would not be in a position of having to plead for such ordinary improvements such as slapping a new coat of a paint on the walls, and having to wade through bureacracy to do it.
That’s how Gilbert understands it, anyway. As plainly as Dr. Baar laid out his proposals, there were still some mind-fogging terms and concepts, especially for Your Gilbert who declares himself not liable for any misunderstandings, misstatements, or misinterpretations in this post.
Councilmember Joy Austin-Lane urged the rest of the council to take action on those provisions she wanted to see enacted into law immediately, numbers 1, 3, 9, and 10. Dr. Baar said that numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 were interrelated and should be passed together. Austin-Lane conceded that 4 could be in her preferred group.. The mayor said she thought it should all be done at the same time, but other council members started calling for their own favorite numbers until it started to sound like a large, argumentative family bickering over a Chinese menu.
Sarah Daines of the Housing and Community Development Office cautioned that it would be problematic to enact the revisions piecemeal, as there might be unintended consequences to have a mix of old and new laws in effect at the same time. She was seated next to Dr. Baar and was beaming like a lantern. Gilbert speculates that she was getting a kick out of seeing someone besides herself in the rent-control hot seat for a change, especially since he was doing so well at it.
So, the question is, what will tenants and landlords think? Will these revisions mollify them? Or will they turn out to vilify these revisions on Dec. 11th? Stay tuned!
With only one week left before he leaves the city council to join the county council, Marc Elrich’s mind was already on county issues, even as he addressed city rent control. While warning that vacancy decontrol, as advocated by many landlords, would soon mean the end of affordable rental housing in the city, he segued into describing the upcoming challenges the county council faces preserving affordable housing for the region’s working and lower-middle classes.
As for who will be running to take his place on the city council, there is no official word yet, as official petitions will not be available until today (Nov. 22). However, City Clerk Jessie Carpenter says there have already been two requests for petitions. Reliable sources say that Rueben Snipper plans on running. There is a rumor that “a guy named Joe” will also run. Former Ward Three councilmember Hank Prensky, now a Ward Five resident, assures us he will not run.