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Rental Housing Committee looks to make utility billing more transparent and predictable for renters

Original post made on Aug 23, 2023

Mountain View’s rent control measures may have hit its limit with a utility billing system that tenants argue has left them in the dark on what they owe the landlord each month, including big changes month to month.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 23, 2023, 1:47 PM

Comments (7)

Posted by JustAWorkingStiff
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2023 at 8:32 pm

JustAWorkingStiff is a registered user.

I am very disappointed that the Rental Control people in the City of Mountain have chosen to go down this path.

It is simple as this:

Energy pricing have been swinging wildly a few years now.**
On nextdoor, there were a lot of people who were surprised by the price of energy this past winter. Most of these people directly pay their own bills.

Renters were also surprised by their energy bills, and some of these people pay through RUBs.

The difference is that the Rent Control People are trying to make Housing Providers absorb the cost of these energy bills.

Obviously, the Housing Providers have no control over the costs of energy.

Of course, there is the issue of RUBs. I think this just a Red Herring which obfuscates the core issue of the wild swing in energy prices. The reason why RUBS exists is because older apartment buildings don't have individual meters. I watched the Rental Housing Committee talk about how it is only about "$1,000" to put in individual meters. Well, in a 200-unit building, that is *at least* $200,000 and more if you add in complexities. Multiply that by how many apartments that use RUBS in the city, and it becomes a significant figure. The city should bring in some professional finance people to analyze this. These people can use ratio analysis to give objective insight in the costs. Instead of a member of the RHC just saying "It isn't much", which is a pretty unprofessional way of looking at expenses.

Part of the justification of this initiative was "Renters were surprised" by their energy bills. Well, I get that. I think all of us are unhappy the way energy pricing is going. And based on what I saw on nextdoor, there was a lot of surprise. But that does not give an arm of government the right to force a Housing Provider to absorb those costs, which are normally a pass through or separate expense born directly by renters.

This is all outside the span of control of Housing Providers and the RUBS issue is a Red Herring.

Posted by Jay
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2023 at 5:25 pm

Jay is a registered user.

In practice, it's too expensive to retrofit utility meters into a large apartment complex so that's why you never see that done, the same way you would not force existing residential homeowners to install solar or remove an old A/C unit that still works. It would be cost-prohibitive.

However, this proposal sounds like a backdoor to pass utility costs to landlords.... if you have 10 units you can either divide the costs by 10, by the square footage, or by the number of people per unit. You should make the policy clear and provide documentation if necessary but the landlord has no control or knowledge over next month's usage.

Under the pretext of encouraging conservation, I fear the rent board is going to do something really impulsive and dumb. This is why we need more representation on the board from people who have experience as landlords, so we can know what's practical and what's not.

Posted by Clarence Rown
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 24, 2023 at 6:34 pm

Clarence Rown is a registered user.

The idea of having more landlords on the Rental Housing Commission is akin to letting foxes guard the henhouse. It's essential to maintain a balanced perspective on rental matters, and including a variety of stakeholders is crucial. However, the primary focus should be on ensuring unbiased representation that safeguards tenant rights and prevents potential conflicts of interest.

Posted by JustAWorkingStiff
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2023 at 12:53 am

JustAWorkingStiff is a registered user.

I think Jay is making very reasonable points:
1.In practice, it's too expensive to retrofit utility meters into a large apartment complex so that's why you never see that done
(This is especially true for many old apartment complexes)
2. However, this proposal sounds like a backdoor to pass utility costs to landlords....

For some reason, these Rental Housing Committee meetings pop up on my You Tube feed. I am disappointed by the level of experience with respect to property management, finance, business as well as the details of construction. The way the meetings are structured is such that Tenants representation is higher than Housing Provider representation. It should be really be 50/50.

Jay pointed out that they might do something impulsive and dumb. I think there is a real risk of this. I think these Activists get in an Echo Chamber and just repeat ideas back and forth then declare it a good idea.

It seems that two of the drivers behind this discussion were "Renters were surprised" and the *fluctuations* in their energy bills. But if you look at the bigger picture, we are going through some of the most volatile energy pricing in the last 50 years. Just for examples, hydroelectric generation, natural gas, and oil have undergone absolutely wild swings in prices. These wild swings are well known to anybody who watches global energy production, distillation, and distribution. But not everybody watches this stuff. Everybody is getting impacted by this, hence the surprise I also observed on nextdoor. But is certainly no justification to force Housing Provider to absorb the cost for commodities for which it has no control.

Posted by Clarence Rown
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 25, 2023 at 8:12 am

Clarence Rown is a registered user.

Shifting from the word "landlord" to "housing provider" seems to be veering towards an Orwellian language rewrite. While language evolves, it's important not to sanitize terms that have clear meanings. "Landlord" accurately conveys the relationship between property owner and tenant. Using vague euphemisms like "housing provider" can obscure important dynamics and undermine transparent communication about housing issues.

Posted by EC
a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 10, 2023 at 11:34 am

EC is a registered user.

Happy to see the city take on this irritating practice. The problem with ratio billing is the lack of transparency. Landlords never make available the specific equations (as in the ratio of total sqft of your apartment and total billed amount) to tenants, so it is impossible to verify the billing amounts. Conservice, is a terrible company and often makes mistakes so verification. Outsourcing utility payments is another irritating side effects, now the utilities cost tenants at least $10 more due to all the fees.

I also find the 'cost prohibitive' aspect extremely dubious. Medien rent in MV is 2600 a month (an outrageous number!). A $1000 utility meter installation isn't even half of that amount.

Posted by Kristian
a resident of Slater
on Oct 22, 2023 at 1:05 pm

Kristian is a registered user.

RUBS is convenient and financially beneficial for the landlord. Landlords are just trying to get their CAP rates up so they can availthe consequent property value increase. Faced with the limited opportunities to reduce expenses at their property they have gotten creative and found ways to pass costs that were traditionally paid by the property owner onto the tenant and utilities are the tool they've found to accomplish this. RUBS and submetering are the methods used, and the former is preferred due to its very low cost to the owner. Users above have already mentioned some of the problems the RUBS presents to the tenant, but there are more. One big problem is the fact that the tenant is not given access to the master metered bills, so tenant has no way to confirm the actual master metered bill charges. Clearly this means that the capitalist can substitute a higher number for the charges. The companies they retain to assist them with billing work for them, not for the tenants. I'm sure they just pass any credit balance back to those that deploy capital for the purpose of draining as much salary from their tenants as they can. Rental property owners that choose to use RUBS should be required to provide tenants access to the master meter bills and the exact calculations and the full data set related to charges calculated for the property. After all, I'm sure they have nothing to hide. Why should tenants trust a capitalist land owner who charges exorbitant rents and makes sure to increase them as much as they can possibly get away with.

Another issue I have is one that is only relevant to low income tenants. I am disabled and on SSI. There
are programs available that I would take advantage of that would provide assistance with paying my water/sewer, which is crazy high here in San Francisco. I live in a tiny one bedroom and they charge me like $200 for water and sewer combined. However, because the actual bill is not in my name I don't qualify.

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