In a move with huge ramifications for Mountain View, a Santa Clara County judge on Wednesday declined an injunction request by the California Apartment Association, in effect allowing the city's voter-approved rent-control measure to go forward.
The city now will begin a complex process to begin regulating rent pricing on approximately 15,000 apartments, including what is expected to be an immediate effort to roll back rents on all qualifying units to Oct. 2015 rates.
The news was announced on Wednesday afternoon, April 5, just one day after lawyers representing landlords made an aggressive plea for Judge William Elfving to continue blocking rent control. The measure has been halted under a temporary restraining order since December when CAA first filed its lawsuit.
In his decision, Elfving stated that CAA's attorney did not provide persuasive evidence that irreparable harm would be inflicted if rent control went forward.
"Without the protections afforded by the measure, some residents of Mountain View face excessive rents and arbitrary evictions," he wrote. "In contrast, the landlords are allowed a fair and reasonable return on their investment."
The decision by Elfving does not mean the lawsuit is resolved, but it allows the city to begin putting the new program into effect while the case is litigated.
Tenant advocates were unsurprisingly elated upon hearing the news on Wednesday.
"We are thrilled that Measure V can finally go into effect and the will of the voters can be effectuated," wrote Juliet Brodie, a Stanford Community Law Clinic attorney who co-authored the measure. "This isn't the final decision on the case, and there is still legal work to be done to get there, but for now we are elated that tenants will have some protection from outrageous and unsustainable rent increases."
The most pressing matter for eligible tenants and landlords will be the rent rollback. As part of a plan put forward in December, city officials say they will largely look to tenants and landlords to implement this switch on their own. At the time, the city's housing mediation contractor, Project Sentinel, urged tenants to take the initiative by communicating with their landlords as soon as possible.
Over the longer term, Measure V is designed to stop what its supporters describe as skyrocketing apartment rents and no-cause evictions. In basic terms, the new rules will restrict rent increases each year to between 2 percent and 5 percent, based in increases in the Consumer Price Index of the Bay Area.
Only older apartments are covered by rent control. Under California's Costa-Hawkins act, apartments first occupied as of Feb. 1, 1995 are exempt from rent control measures.
The city will have a new enforcement arm to ensure compliance for any resistance or foot-dragging on the new policies. On Tuesday, April 4, the City Council selected a final panel of five members, plus one alternate, for a new rental-housing committee that will be in charge of administering the new program. That committee will be empowered to levy penalties against landlords who violate the new rules.
The green light for Mountain View's rent-control package mirrors a similar series of events that played out in the city of Richmond. The East Bay city had also passed its own rent-control program last November, spurring a separate lawsuit by the CAA. In that case, a Contra Costa County judge had also denied an injunction request to block the measure.