This article was posted on Wednesday, Jun 01, 2016

With rents in Alameda seeing dramatic increases over the past several years due to a tight rental market, politicians in this historically more affordable Bay Area community have been under intense pressure from tenant advocates to impose rent control measures in order to stabilize rents and deter evictions.

On the Road to Rent Control

After a very raucous November 4, 2015 meeting, at which two protesters were arrested, the Alameda City Council voted to adopt an emergency 65-day moratorium on rent increases of 8% or more on a cumulative basis over the previous 12 months for certain rental units, and to prohibit for most rental units eviction of a tenant, except for just cause. On January 6, 2016, after

an exhaustive marathon session that went on until 4 a.m., the Alameda City Council voted to extend the moratorium for another 60 days, but failed to approve any of the three rent control ordinances that were proposed.

Instead, it directed city staffers to craft compromise legislation. On February 16, Alameda city staff presented its principles of agreement detailing precise guidelines for a proposed Rent Stabilization and Eviction Limitation Ordinance to the City Council. 

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Alameda Passes Rent Control for First Time

On March 1, 2016, the Alameda City Council voted to adopt the proposal presented by city staff, and the new ordinance went into effect on March 31, making Alameda only the second Bay Area city in over 30 years to adopt rent control. Actually, the City of Richmond was first, but its measure was repealed in September 2015, almost immediately after passage by a petition drive signed by over 15% of the city’s electorate.

Rather than placing a ceiling on annual rent increases, as in San Francisco and most other rent-controlled cities, Alameda’s rent ordinance requires a mediation hearing before the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee for any rent increases above 5%, and requires binding arbitration if both sides do not reach agreement. The ordinance also implements certain eviction protections, including limitations on and payment of relocation benefits for no-fault evictions, such as OMIs, (Owner Move Ins). These protections cover all rental units with limited exceptions. 

Tenant Activists Not Satisfied

The adoption of Alameda’s first rent control measure has not dissuaded the Alameda Renters Coalition, a growing force in the city’s politics, from announcing plans to introduce a ballot measure to enact far more stringent rent control restrictions than the current law.

Clearly, tenant advocates in Alameda are following San Francisco’s rent control playbook. But Alameda, a city of 72,000 residents and a roughly equal percentage of property owners and renters, is not San Francisco. As such, tenant advocates will find it far more difficult to institute San Francisco’s draconian style of rent control. 

Eight Bay Area Cities Besides San

Francisco Have Rent Control

• Alameda

• Los Gatos

• Berkeley

• Oakland

• East Palo Alto

• San Jose

• Hayward

(Richmond rent control was repealed in Sept. 2015) 

Attention:  All Owners of 3 or More Units in San Francisco!

By Robert Noelke 

In 2002, following a number of horrific deck collapses, the city of San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring owners of buildings with three or more units to have all protruding structures of the building, decks, balconies, fire escapes, etc. inspected every five years by a licensed architect, contractor, engineer or pest control contractor. 

Following the inspection, an affidavit, testifying that the building meets safety standards as described in Section 604 of the San Francisco Building Code, must be filed with the Housing Inspection Service, a division of the Department of Building Inspection (DBI). 

The 604 Inspection

The inspection focuses on structures attached to the exterior of the building, looking at the integrity of all connections and for rust, dry-rot and other signs of deterioration that can lead to structural collapse.  These include: 

  • Fire escapes
  • Wood stairs
  • Concrete stairs
  • Balconies
  • Landings
  • Guardrails/handrails 

Don’t Be Foolish:  Comply with the Ordinance!

You should comply with this ordinance for two very good reasons: 

  1. Liability.  Most accidents and liability claims against landlords stem from preventable stairway accidents
  2. Penalties. Enforcement for non-compliance, in the form of fines.  Notices of Violation (NOVs) and fees are likely to be brutal.  It could also open the door to questions about the legality of the deck or staircase, with all the issues that it implies. 

A final compliance date has not been set, but it is expected that in several months, notices will go out to owners who have not filed the 604 affidavit.  This is when the enforcement action will begin, with NOVs, Orders of Abatement, cost assessment penalties, hearings, etc.  If a hearing is held, owners can request 30 additional days to bring their buildings into compliance.  After that, they are subject to fees and penalties which can add up to thousands in no time – the cost of a new staircase!  Don’t let this happen to you! 

Peter Reitz is SPOSF/SPOSFI’s Executive Director. Robert Noelke is a licensed general contractor, a former San Francisco building inspector and member of the board.  He may be contacted at (415) 826-2981 or at [email protected] Reprinted with permission of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute (SPOSFI) News.  For more information on becoming a member of SPOSFI or to send a tax-deductible donation, please visit their website at or call (415) 647-2419.