Battle over Mtn. View rent control continues with Measure D

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Bruce Barton/Town Crier
Mountain View residents protest Measure D Tuesday evening outside the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts downtown.

Measure D, an amendment to Mountain View’s rent control law on the March 3 ballot, can be taken three different ways.

For apartment owners, it offers some relief from the low-level rent increase caps imposed under the 2016 rent control law, which ranged from 2.4% to 3.5%, reflecting the Consumer Price Index.

For renters and their advocates, it’s an attempt to water down the 2016 law, Measure V, by increasing the cap, and a proverbial slap in the face to low-income residents trying to get by.

But council members, who initiated Measure D last year, see it as a compromise. They view the measure as limiting the absurd rent hikes that occurred over the past decade (including a 52.7 percent increase between 2011 and 2015), while at the same time deterring property owners from selling old apartment complexes to developers. 

There already have been several cases in the city in which developers have purchased and demolished old apartments to build new ones at market rates that are not subject to rent control. State law dictates that rental units built after February 1995 are exempt from rent control.

Measure D has the backing of the California Apartment Association, which had been planning to place its own initiative on the November ballot. A spokesman indicated the association might not proceed with its own initiative to undermine rent control if Measure D passes.

The politicking is well underway as voters begin to cast their ballots. With the campaign funding advantage clearly with landlords and developers. “Yes on D” signs are popping up at street corners, promising to “limit rent increases at 4%.” Some signs carry the tag, “Paid for by Grand Fir, LLC,” referencing a Sunnyvale apartment company. 

“Why would a Sunnyvale apartment company want to ‘protect renters’ in Mountain View?” asked former Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel, a vocal opponent of Measure D. “Is it honest to say, ‘Limit rent increase at 4%’ when, under Measure V, annual rent increases have always been smaller than that?”

Siegel noted that “Measure V is working, so instead of arguing against rent control, the landlords are lying to the voters.”

In addition to increasing the cap limit, Measure D allows landlords to charge additional increases to pay for safety upgrades on buildings, such as seismic retrofits.

Opponents counter that current law allows landlords additional rent increases for safety upgrades if the associated costs deny them a fair rate of return.

Under Measure D, “Landlord(s) will be entitled to pass many costs directly to tenants,” according to the opposition group Mountain View Housing Justice. “Between the higher flat rate and cost pass throughs, Measure D puts tenants at risk of up to 10% annual rent increases.”

Among its other actions, Measure D would prohibit payment to members of a rental housing committee, clarifies that committee independently implements the new rent control law and clarifies that mobile homes are exempt from rent control.

For more on the story, watch for the Town Crier's Feb. 26 print edition.

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