Mountain View Tables Rent ‘Decontrol’ Talks—For Now

Apartment rental vacancies are climbing in Mountain View, which opened the door for a discussion Monday night to halt the city’s tenant control protections—a prospect that residents quickly quashed, at least for the time being.

Mountain View’s rent control ordinance was passed by voters in 2016, and includes a stipulation that allows the law to be suspended if the average annual vacancy rate of rent-controlled apartments rises above 5 percent—a caveat uncommon among rent control ordinances in the Bay Area. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, vacancy rates have indeed risen steadily. Among the city’s rent-controlled units, the vacancy rate has risen from 6.1 percent in July to 9.3 percent in November, according to real estate data firm CoStar.

Vacancy rates have steadily risen in the city of Mountain View during the pandemic. (Image courtesy of the city of Mountain View public records)

But even if suspending rent control protections is allowed, Mountain View residents showed up Monday to tell members of the Rental Housing Committee that even mulling the decision was the wrong move. “Just because you can do this, doesn’t mean you should,” resident Eva Tang told committee members. “Mountain View may as well adopt a resolution saying that we hate poor people.”

The debate Monday focused on whether to put the question of suspending rent control on a future agenda in response to a proposal by committee member Julian Pardo de Zela, who said rent control is keeping landlords from renting vacant homes.

“There are landlords who have said very publicly … that because of the huge vacancy rate right now, they are unwilling or reluctant to rent certain units in Mountain View,” Pardo de Zela said. “They’re afraid they’re going to get stuck with a very low-base rent.”

To suspend rent control, the committee would first have to conduct its own survey of the city’s rent-controlled apartments and the vacancy rate would have to remain higher than 5 percent for at least a year.

Even so, none of the 18 residents who chimed in during the meeting’s public comment period supported the proposal to keep discussions alive around suspending rent control.

Resident Bee Hanson said that if rents became unaffordable, tenants could lose the only shelter they have during a surge of Covid-19 cases. “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people,” Hanson said, quoting Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease doctor.

Edie Keating, also a resident, worried landlords would take advantage of the opportunity to raise rents for their lowest-income tenants.

“Why not do an eviction-by-rent-increase to get rid of those who are the most economically fragile?” Keating asked rhetorically. “Landlords would have a field day if the (rent control law) were suspended … this is bad timing.”

Though committee members almost uniformly said they wouldn’t likely raise rents right now anyway, some were still prepared to start the process. The discussion and the required study could help them better understand the current state of rent-controlled housing in the city and allow the committee to make changes to the ordinance, committee member Matt Grunewald said.

“This is just about (exploring) what options do we have,” Grunewald said. “This is a unique time where we have a window to change some things.”

Others, including committee members Nicole Haines-Livesay, Susyn Almond and Chair Emily Ramos, agreed that pushing the discussion forward now would be too drastic a step during a chaotic time.

“I cannot justify to myself to do this during a pandemic,” Ramos said. “In this time, when so many people are becoming vulnerable… I cannot move forward with this.”

And even though he proposed putting the matter on the agenda, Pardo de Zela assured residents that if the question suspending the city’s rent control law did come up for a vote now, he’d be on their side.

“I would vote against suspending the whole thing, because that would be the sledgehammer,” Pardo de Zela said. “I think we have to educate ourselves and then make a decision, instead of just reflexively acting.”

Pardo de Zela made a motion to put the item on the agenda.

No one seconded the motion.

‘RV Ban’ Takes Shape

The Mountain View City Council voted last week to spend $980,000 to install 2,600 “No Parking” signs along 110 miles of the city’s streets as part of its controversial RV ban.

The ban, passed by 56 percent of voters last month, prohibits oversized vehicles from parking along streets less than 40 feet in width. The city will begin installing the signs in April, after which Mountain View police will be able to issue fines and have non-compliant vehicles towed.

The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, along with the ACLU of Northern California, said last year that they would be prepared to challenge the ban were it to become law.

“We are in touch with vehicle residents who want to challenge the ban,” said Michael Trujillo, staff attorney with the Law Foundation, on Monday. “We’re collaborating with them and deciding on the best course of action.”

10 Comments

  1. Rent control in the end is a winner for landlords, so thanks chumps! Higher rents from less supply.

    Nothing hurts poor people like rent control, more eviction, more stuck, more displacement, more homeless, deteriorating stock for what, keeping your rent at $3000 a month. Its a bandaid. If you wanted to make the poor middle class, let them build build build. But we know where that stands.

    So stop lying and speak the truth. Mountain View is no country for poor people.

  2. > Mountain View is no country for poor people.

    But if Mountain View brings in more poor people, won’t the wealth just kind of rub off on them and end poverty?

    And, after the poor people become rich, just bring in more poor people and repeat the whole process all over again.

    Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

  3. greed is keeping them from renting empty homes. any home vacant for more than 60 days should be seized and redistributed to unhoused people. see how quickly the landlords scramble to try and fill their “property” then.

  4. Mr. Abolitionist – I am rooting for you to actually get that done. The tenant would sell it almost immediately, but none the less, you are on to something.

    Hip hip hooray for Mr. Abolitionist! Hip hip hooray!

  5. I don’t know why anyone would live in Mtn. View unless they have a really good reason for being there. $1.5 million starter homes. It isn’t that great living there.

  6. Let look at the TEXT of the CSFRA law that reads:

    “Section 1718. – Decontrol.

    If the average annual vacancy rate in Controlled Rental Units exceeds five percent (5%) , THE COMMITTEE IS EMPOWERED, AT ITS DISCRETION AND IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE THE OBJECTIVES OF THIS ARTICLE, TO SUSPEND THE PROVISIONS OF THIS ARTICLE. In determining the vacancy rate for Controlled Rental Units, the Committee SHALL CONSIDER ALL AVAILABLE DATA AND SHALL CONDUCT ITS OWN SURVEY. If the Committee finds that the average annual vacancy rate has thereafter fallen below five percent (5%) the provisions of this Article shall be reimposed.”

    So the REALITY is that the RHC is not REQUIRED to implement decontrol. YOU knew that I am certain.

    The real thing scaring the rent controlled landlords is that the market has collapsed in the City. And it will not likely recover as long as Oracle, HP, Palantir, Google, Apple are either allowing their workers to work from home or are outright leaving the county. The reality is the majority of THE BEST apartments in the city have seen price return to the levels they were in 2014, killing any return on investments. You can see that data here (https://www.zumper.com/rent-research/mountain-view-ca).

    The facts are the rental market in Mountain View is collapsing. And MANY people who got conned into buying Apartment Buildings since 2014 are going to get a major disaster. And the ones being built currently are going to go vacant for a long time simply because the developer is stuck, they cannot reduce the prices without devastating the Commercial and Residential Mortgage Backed Securities used to fund them.

    This is not just happening in Mountain view, the WHOLE Bay area is getting wiped out regarding SPECULATIVE investing in the housing market.

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