Stiffer rent controls urged for Monterey

MONTEREY — Elected officials in Monterey want to move beyond asking landlords to voluntarily cap rent increases and into the arena of more restrictive rent control.
Council members Alan Haffa and Tyler Williamson want their colleagues to schedule a study session to solicit feedback from the public and give direction to city staff to potentially come back at a future date with an actionable ordinance.
“These are simply recommendations and a starting point for a larger discussion about protections for the majority of families residing in Monterey,” Haffa and Williamson wrote in a report the City Council will take up beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday during a virtual council meeting.
When the pair refers to a “majority of families,” they are referencing city data indicating 64.2% of residential units in Monterey are occupied by renters.
Skyrocketing rents in Monterey and California, in general, are pushing service workers farther away from where they work, creating hardships and gentrification of communities, renters’ advocates say. In response, the state and municipalities are passing increasingly stricter laws governing evictions and rent increases.
While rents explode, wages have gained little or remain stagnant, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compensation costs for civilian workers increased just 0.5%, seasonally adjusted, for the three-month period ending in September 2020. Rents meanwhile have soared many times that percent.
With the passage of Assembly Bill 1482 last year, which caps annual rent increases at 5% plus the current inflation rate, cities can be more strict on capping rents but not more lenient. Haffa and Williamson want to push past that state minimum.
Municipal rent control measures can take myriad forms, but all have certain things in common. First is price control that limits what landlords can charge for rent, often called rent stabilization.
The direction Haffa and Williamson would like the city to take will be to extend the city’s temporary freeze on rent increases for households that have suffered a substantial loss of income or a significant increase of medical expenses as a result of the pandemic. That emergency moratorium expired on Sept. 30.
They are proposing to pass another urgency ordinance that would place a moratorium on any rent increase for those affected by the pandemic for three months. It would also cap total rent increases at 2% for six months.
Nearly 52% of renters in Monterey are facing financial problems directly related to housing costs, the report states.
Haffa and Williamson would also like to see a rental registry that would require landlords to register with the city and provide essential information that would enable enforcement of rent control or stabilization. Some half-dozen Bay Area cities have already established registries.
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Finally, the pair is urging colleagues to consider creating a type of rent board that would enforce rent ordinances, hear landlord and tenant complaints, and consider petitions by landlords to increase rent. Such a board would be made up of commissioners appointed by the city council.

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