In an effort to staunch a recent wave of evictions, the Mountain View City Council on Tuesday morning voted to immediately implement the eviction protections in Measure V, despite plenty of qualms over the idea of ushering new restrictions into the local housing market.
The council approved the just-cause eviction protections as an urgency ordinance in a 6-1 vote with Councilman John Inks opposing. It required at least five votes to pass.
The special meeting on Nov. 15 was the first time the council has met since the Nov. 8 election, when voters sent a strong message that they wanted to curb the rising cost of housing in the city. Citizen initiative Measure V won approval from about 53 percent of Mountain View voters, one of the rare successful rent-control proposals in California in a generation. In the same election, a competing council-backed measure lost.
But even before the election, tenants advocates and city officials were startled to learn that landlords were trying to evict tenants as a way to circumvent Measure V and its provision that would roll back apartment rents to October 2015 rates. Just in October, 14 evictions were reported throughout Mountain View, and there were likely many more that were never brought to the city's attention, city staff reported.
After learning about the evictions from a story in the Mountain View Voice, Mayor Pat Showalter said she asked city staff to prepare the Nov. 15 meeting to prevent more households from being displaced.
That put the City Council in an awkward situation on Tuesday morning: they were being asked to approve significant portions of a rent-control measure most of them had aggressively and repeatedly opposed. Councilman Ken Rosenberg explained there hasn't been one version of rent-control that he's liked, although he said he wanted to be sympathetic to tenants coping with rising rents.
"Measure V passed in spite of my efforts and others' efforts and a lot of money that went (against) it," he said. "I cannot sit here while more and more people get evicted from their houses for no fault of their own."
To prevent further evictions, staff with the city attorney's office proposed immediately adopting the just-cause eviction protections of Measure V. These proposed rules would essentially forbid landlords from evicting tenants except under specific conditions, such as failure to pay rent or criminal activity. Just-cause rules have long been sought by tenant advocates, but council members previously expressed concerns that the protections would cause landlords to become excessively picky in accepting new tenants. It would be a "stop-gap" measure to protect tenants until Dec. 23, when Measure V is expected to be certified and formally adopted, said City Attorney Jannie Quinn.
But there remained plenty of questions exactly how just-cause protections would affect the current spree of evictions. Independent legal aid groups indicated that 30 or 60-day no-cause eviction notices given to tenants could already be considered illegal under Measure V. Nevertheless, Kara Brodfuehrer, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, urged the Mountain View City Council to approve the just-cause protections anyway as a way to give "clarity" to landlords and tenants on the rules in the interim.
"It's really important this council pass this ordinance because the public needs this clarification," she said. "The voters have spoken and it's time to provide clarification."
The recent turmoil in Mountain View's rental market was on full display before the council. Vera Szepesi described how she and at least three other tenants at the Pamela Drive apartments were handed eviction notices in recent days. Their property owner made clear they were being evicted because of Measure V, and he hinted he would rescind the evictions if the law didn't pass.
"These evictions are clearly an attempt to circumvent the rent control measure that just passed," Szepesi said. "If I have to move because of the cost of increased rent, I'm not sure I'll be able to stay in Mountain View."
Her landlord, Kerry Mainini, spoke at the meeting and faulted the city for forcing him to oust his tenants. He was at risk to lose "35 percent" of his retirement, and his attorneys advised him his only recourse to protect his investment was to evict tenants. He left the podium cursing the council saying he wished their pensions get stolen "as you're doing to mine."
Joshua Howard, a spokesman with the California Apartment Association, warned that the unanswered legal questions surrounding Measure V showed its many flaws. He said "a legal challenge was imminent" against the measure. Asked after the meeting what he meant, Howard would say only that many landlords were considering their options.
Many City Council members expressed deep reservations about rent control, but they said voters had spoken and they intended to protect current residents. Clearly frustrated with the situation, Councilman Mike Kasperzak said the city was being asked to defend an inflexible measure. Since some attorneys consider tenant protections already in place, Kasperzak said it didn't make sense for the city to double down on a second set of prohibitions.
"The Council is now being asked to bail out the first of many deficiencies of this charter amendment which cannot be modified, amended or corrected except by a vote of the people," he said.
In the other corner was Councilman Lenny Siegel, who applauded the measure for being well-written, but said the just-cause protections were needed now more than ever. Even with new protections, many tenants would be afraid to defend themselves, he said.
"We have a large number of tenants who fear their rights have been destroyed in the national election --- they'll be afraid to defend anything for fear of deportation," he said. "These laws are designed to protect people and they will help people."