Other Voices: Measure D: Not a fair rate of return for renters

When rents were rising rapidly in 2016, forcing many renters to move, Mountain View voters passed Measure V, which stabilized rents to keep lower-income renters in Mountain View. It also enacted just cause for eviction, and, at the same time, allowed for a fair rate of return for landlords. Measure V, also known as the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA) capped rents for approximately 13,500 units in Mountain View built before 1995. The League of Women Voters of the Los Altos-Mountain View Area believes our communities are stronger when there is rent stabilization and just-cause programs to minimize displacement, provide stable and predictable housing costs and provide a fair rate of return to landlords.

However, a group of landlords initiated a ballot measure planned for the November election that makes radical changes to CSFRA, effectively suspending it. To potentially avoid this ballot initiative, the Mountain View City Council developed Measure D and placed it on the March ballot. Measure D makes significant changes to current policy. The LWV opposes Measure D because it is inconsistent with the fair rate of return standard and eliminates the use of an inflation index in determining the maximum annual rent increase. These two changes can more likely lead to large rent increases of up to 10% per year. In fact, rents could potentially increase up to 20% in just 13 months.

The fair rate of return standard is a formula based on the growth of a landlord’s profit rate since 2015. It was assumed that in 2015, because rents were unregulated, landlords were making the profits they wanted, a fair rate of return. Under current law, landlords can petition to raise rents if they are not getting a fair rate of return. CSFRA also allows landlords to increase rents to offset the cost of any earthquake safety upgrades the city requires, but these costs can only be passed on to the tenants if the landlord is not making a fair rate of return. Measure D expands the list of eligible upgrades, allowing many upgrades to bypass the fair-rate-of-return standard. While these yet-to-be-determined costs may benefit the landlords by improving their buildings, the potential 10% rental increase per year may drive our vulnerable renters from our community without using the fair rate of return standard put in place to protect them.

Currently, rent increases are limited by the rate of inflation, which has varied between 2.4% and 3.6% since 2012. Measure D allows a flat 4% annual increase, regardless of inflation. Taken together with passing through upgrade costs to tenants, annual rents are more likely to increase by as much as 10% – each year.

The LWV believes that CSFRA provides rent stabilization and just-cause programs that are fair and reasonable for both landlords and tenants. Because Measure D proposes significant, one-sided changes to current law, the LWV urges you to vote “no” on Measure D.

 

Sue Russell, a Los Altos resident, is a member of the League of Women Voters of the Los Altos-Mountain View Area.

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