Update: A Santa Clara Superior Court judge on Thursday morning halted implementation of Measure V, according to officials with the California Apartment Association. The action comes as a temporary restraining order that for now blocks a rent rollback planned for Friday.
However, the judge reportedly did not grant landlord advocates' request to also halt a set of eviction protections passed by the Mountain View City Council last month.
Below is the Voice's reporting before the Thursday morning development:
Two days from being enacted, Mountain View's voter-approved rent-control law, Measure V, is being challenged and potentially halted by a lawsuit by landlord advocates.
On Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 21, city officials say they learned the California Apartment Association had filed a civil complaint in Santa Clara County Superior Court seeking to overturn the rent control charter amendment as well as a set of emergency eviction protections approved by the City Council following the election.
The action came as no surprise -- CAA officials had repeatedly warned leading up to the election that the Measure V rent-control charter amendment would spur a legal challenge. Just last week, they informed the city in a formal letter that their lawyers were preparing a multi-pronged lawsuit.
The apartment association's civil complaint alleges that both Measure V and the council's ordinance are unconstitutional and amount to a taking of private property. Among their arguments, they say the measure's provisions are inadequate to guarantee landlords a fair rate of return, and that the regulations represent "an arbitrary and capricious windfall for tenants."
Meanwhile, the suit also argues that the city's eviction protections would essentially transfer the value of rental property from landlords to longstanding tenants. The measure's creation of a new Rental Housing Committee is also being challenged as discriminatory because it allows only two members to own or manage rental property or work as real estate agents or developers.
As part of this lawsuit, the apartment association is requesting a temporary restraining order to block Measure V and the eviction protections from taking effect, city officials say. That request will reportedly be reviewed by a judge in a hearing scheduled for Thursday (Dec. 22) morning, after the Voice's press deadline.
In an email to the Voice, City Attorney Jannie Quinn said her team intends to defend the council's just-cause eviction ordinance from a restraining order. However, they do not plan to fight the landlord group's request to delay the rollout of Measure V. The decision to not defend Measure V at this juncture, Quinn wrote, was made in order to "provide time for the city to fully analyze the complaint and prepare for further hearings, and insure the immediate preservation of the just-cause ordinance."
Quinn did not say who made that decision.
The threat of a legal challenge rattled city officials in recent days. After receiving a letter warning of the suit, the Mountain View City Council hastily assembled late last week for a closed-door meeting to discuss unspecified pending litigation. In interviews with the Voice, city officials left little room for doubt that the meeting was about the threat of a lawsuit against Measure V.
Across the board, city officials said their response would depend on the details of the lawsuit. Trying to comment at this time would be speculation, said Mayor Pat Showalter.
"We're going to see how this unfolds I'll be very interested to see what happens," she said. "We'll do the best we can."
What this means for apartment renters and landlords in Mountain View is anyone's guess. The charter amendment set to take effect on Dec. 23 includes a sweeping rollback of rents to October 2015 rates on thousands of apartments. If granted, a restraining order would temporarily halt these provisions until a full court hearing can be scheduled.
The uncertainty of a potential lawsuit has been hanging over city officials in recent days as they worked to begin implementing Measure V. In an informational session on Thursday night, officials with Project Sentinel, the city's housing-mediation contractor, repeatedly warned tenants that their advice could be rendered invalid if a lawsuit ended up delaying various provisions from taking effect.
Measure V scored a victory on election night with more than 53.4 percent of the vote, but the initiative had far less support among elected leaders. Six out of the seven Mountain View council members opposed the measure, most of them backing a milder alternative they added to the November ballot.
Following the election, however, most council members voted to immediately enact a section of Measure V calling for just-cause protections in order to prevent wide-scale evictions before the charter amendment took effect.
Mountain View is not obligated to defend Measure V if a lawsuit were filed, Quinn said. In that scenario, city leaders would decide in a closed-session vote whether to defend the law. That vote would have to be reported out to the public, she said.
For months, proponents of Measure V have maintained that rent-control laws and eviction protections have been upheld in California courts as legally sound. The Mountain View Tenants Coalition, which put Measure V on the ballot, could intervene to help defend the law, said spokeswoman Juliet Brodie.
"We believe 100 percent in the validity of Measure V," she said. "We're all going to have to wait and see what they do, and we'll respond accordingly."
Measure V was written with a so-called "severability" clause designed to prevent the charter amendment from being thrown out entirely if a specific provision is found to be flawed in court. CAA attorneys could still mount a wholesale attack against the measure, Brodie said.
"The city has an obligation to defend the measure unless our attorneys consider it unconstitutional," said Councilman Lenny Siegel, the charter amendment's lone supporter on the City Council. "The record across California for decades has been that similar laws covering millions of people are constitutional."
The California Apartment Association did not immediately return calls for comment.