Starting next month, rents on thousands of Mountain View apartments are expected to roll back to 2015 rates as part of the city's sweeping Measure V rent control law.
But tenants could soon be making the case that they deserve some compensation for the months that the measure was delayed by an ongoing lawsuit.
Attorneys for the Mountain View Tenants Coalition say they are researching whether a legal case can be made that tenants should be paid back some of their rent going back as far as December. But sorting out this question could take months and possibly more litigation for a matter already being fought in the courts.
"There's a possibility that tenants may be entitled to some recoupment between the effective date of Measure V," said Juliet Brodie, an attorney who co-authored the measure. "The question is: What is the effective date of Measure V?"
This is no small question. With about 15,000 apartments qualifying for the rent rollback, it is likely that millions of dollars are at stake depending on how Measure V's language is interpreted.
After Mountain View voters approved Measure V in November, the new law was set to take effect on Dec. 23. Besides imposing just-cause eviction policies and capping rent increases, Measure V included a provision to rewind apartment rents back to whatever tenants were paying in October 2015.
That effort was abruptly halted Dec. 22, when the California Apartment Association obtained a temporary restraining order as part of its lawsuit against the measure.
The rent control measure remained in limbo until two weeks ago, when Judge William Elfving denied a request to continue blocking Measure V until the lawsuit is concluded. He ordered that the rent control law should take effect immediately.
Based on that direction, city officials said they would implement the law with April 6 as the effective date. For tenants who already paid rent for April, that means the rent rollback won't start until May.
So far, city officials have taken a somewhat hands-off approach to Measure V, looking to tenants and landlords to sort out the specifics among themselves. They say enforcement won't come at least until next month, when the city's Rental Housing Committee is in place and begins implementing the measure's policies.
Now that the measure has been given the green light, tenant advocates say they are poring over the language of Measure V to see if renters can recoup the difference between the rent they paid in October 2015 and their current rents for the four months since January.
Brodie told the Voice that Measure V explicitly states that its effective date is "ten days after the vote is declared by the City Council." That would make it Dec. 23, she said.
With a different read on the measure, California Apartment Association spokesman Joshua Howard said landlords shouldn't have any obligation to repay past rent.
"There is nothing in Measure V that requires the refunding of rents lawfully collected prior to its effective date," he wrote in an email. "We have not identified any legal mandate."
This matter could be resolved by the Rental Housing Committee or possibly through a civil lawsuit, Brodie said.
Asked about this, City Attorney Jannie Quinn said Mountain View officials were not taking any position, for now at least.
"I think it's fair to say there's a number of issues that will need to be determined," she said. "Tenants can decide on their own if they want to pursue that through the court process."