A package of policies to allow landlords to negotiate side deals with tenants to buy them out of rent-controlled apartments was approved by the Mountain View Rental Housing Committee on Monday, Feb. 11.
These so-called tenant buyout rules would create a formal framework for renters to be paid if they agree to quickly move out in order for their apartments to be immediately brought up to market rate. The rules were approved in a 3-2 vote, with committee members Susyn Almond and Julian Pardo de Zela opposing. Committee chairman Matthew Grunewald was absent.
City housing staff says tenant buyout rules are standard in other California cities with rent control policies, and they are intended to ensure a fair compromise is reached between all parties.
In Mountain View, the need for tenant buyout rules emerged after some mysterious projects to redevelop older apartments came forward a few years ago, according to city staff. These older apartments were completely vacant, indicating the tenants had unanimously consented to move out, but the city lacked any information on what had happened.
Landlords and their advocates at the Monday meeting argued that tenant buyouts were nothing new, but the city was taking a clumsy approach by creating a whole new set of regulations for it.
Committee member Vanessa Honey pointed to her own background as an apartment property manager for more than 20 years, managing thousands of apartments. Overall, she said she could count "on one hand" the number of times she had brokered a tenant buyout.
"This is a solution looking for a problem," Pardo de Zela agreed. "We can enact regulations, but that doesn't mean we should."
Other committee members stepped forward to defend the new rules, arguing they provided some safeguards to prevent landlords from manipulating tenants. Among the rules, tenants would have to be informed of their rights, including their freedom to reject a deal or consult with an attorney. Tenants would also be given a "cooling off" period to back out of a deal if they had a change of heart. Also, it was important for city officials to track any of these buyouts to follow local housing trends, said committee member Emily Ramos.
"We don't want this law to be the Wild West," she said. "We want data to see if there's any patterns and to figure out how to implement this law better so it's equitable for all parties."
Under the city rules, a copy of any tenant buyout deal would need to be submitted to the city for its record-keeping. On this point, committee member Nicole Haines Livesay asked for the city to exercise discretion to keep specific details of these deals confidential. The rental committee's attorney said they would look into the issue, but added that government public records laws could require disclosure.