This article was posted on Tuesday, Aug 15, 2023

After a year of deliberation by Larkspur officials, the city is set to become the second in Marin County to adopt a rent control ordinance.

The City Council voted 3-1 on Wednesday to introduce an ordinance that would cap rent increases at 5% plus inflation or 7%, whichever figure is lower. Councilmember Catherine Way dissented.

The move comes a month after the council failed to reach consensus on the rental cap, voting down three proposals.

The second reading of the ordinance is set for the City Council’s meeting on Sept. 6. If it passes, Larkspur will join Fairfax, the first Marin municipality to adopt a rent control ordinance.

The new provision is stronger than state Assembly Bill 1482, or the Tenant Protection Act, which sets the bar at 5% plus inflation or 10%, whichever is lower. The state law expires on Jan. 1, 2030, while the local ordinance would end on Dec. 31, 2030.

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“The passage of the rent stabilization ordinance into first reading reflects the council majority’s commitment to find a balance improvement to AB 1482’s rental cap,” Mayor Gabe Paulson said after the meeting. “We plan to continue to listen to and respond to stakeholders while gathering data to inform decisions.”

Way said it’s been a difficult discussion because it’s “not a win-win.” She maintained the council should ask the voters at the ballot box whether rent control is right for the city.

“It’s an economic argument for a lot of people, and just like economic arguments of parcel taxes and school taxes, we take them to the ballot because it adversely affects some people more than others,” Way said.

Councilmember Scot Candell said he was leaning toward voting in favor of the ordinance at the June 21 meeting, when it was rejected. He said the testimony he heard from tenants saying it wasn’t strong enough, and the comments from landlords that it was too much, gave him pause.

“Why would we pass something that everyone hates that’s going to cost taxpayers money?” he said. “Having said that, sometimes the best legislation is the legislation that everybody hates because it means you’ve struck a balance.”

He called it “a fair compromise” before casting his vote in favor.

In addition to the rental cap, the ordinance establishes a petition process for landlords seeking a “fair rate of return” that justifies an increase above the ceiling.

It also allows the city to charge a fee to administer the program. If approved, the ordinance will have a rollback date of May 8.

Separately, the council unanimously adopted a just-cause-for-eviction ordinance, which is also retroactive to May 8 and expires Dec. 31, 2030.

The ordinance would establish relocation assistance payments equal to three months’ rent or $5,000, whichever is greater, for a no-fault eviction.

The ordinance also would establish a tenant’s right to return to a dwelling if the landlord chooses to rent the residence within 12 months of eviction. It also has protections for those who are elderly, disabled or terminally ill.

Some tenants told the council they were disappointed the process has taken so long because they’ve seen rent increases in the 6% to 10% range again. They continued to plead for a more restrictive rent increases.

Landlords and their associations said they were concerned about the rent control aspect, but like in Fairfax, they were more alarmed by the implications of the just-cause-for-eviction ordinance. Specifically, they said the relocation assistance and the right of return for a tenant were financially burdensome for property owners.

California’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act prohibits local rent control regulations on properties constructed after 1995. Detached homes and condominiums are also exempt from rent control under the law.

In Fairfax, officials are running damage control after blowback from landlords. A group of protesters is seeking approval of a ballot initiative, while the Town Council continues to work through revisions to its tenant protection regulations.

The Town Council is expected to pick up the discussion in August.

San Anselmo is scheduled to host a public discussion on tenant protections at its Town Council meeting on Tuesday. The council directed staff last month to propose options for considering tenant protection ordinances, said Town Manager Dave Donery.

On Tuesday, the staff is proposing to hold a forum for landlords and a separate forum for tenants before calling a public hearing. The staff is proposing sending mailers, creating a web page and disseminating information through the town’s newsletter and bulletin board to help spread the word.

Mayor Steve Burdo said the town had asked staff to monitor the progress in Fairfax back in the spring of 2022 before bringing the discussion to San Anselmo.

Given the recent developments in Fairfax and Larkspur, Burdo said, “it seems like a good time to have a community discussion on the issue while it’s at the front of people’s minds.”

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at Town Hall at 525 San Anselmo Ave. and online. Information is at townofsananselmo.org.