Measure M – Santa Cruz City Rent Control
-I’m voting YES (so far)
The basics of what it would do are:
(1) Create an elected rent board that would be funded by fees charged to landlords. This board would regulate rental prices, etc, and settle disputes.
(2) Limit the amount a landlord can increase the rent for existing tenants. The limit will be set by the Rent Board, but will be between 0 and 5%. The board can allow bigger increases in cases where landlords show they aren’t making a “fair return”. This would not apply to stand-alone, or “Single Family” housing units (condos, houses) unless Prop 10 also passes. Currently, state law prohibits cities from limiting rent increases between tenants, but if Prop 10 passes and Measure M passes, the City would be able to restrict rent increases between tenants as well.
(3) Require a ‘just cause’ to evict a tenant, which would include:
(per Section 5 of Measure M)
1. Violating the terms of the rental agreement.
2.Failure to pay rent.
3.Damage to unit or Nuisance – interfering with comfort, safety or enjoyment of other residents of property.
5.Won’t allow the landlord on the property.
6.Moving out and leaving the unit in charge of a subletter.
7.Not renewing the rental agreement.
8. The unit isn’t permitted.
9. The owner or a near relative wants to move in.
10.Repairs that require the vacating of the unit.
11. Withdrawal of unit from rental market.
For reasons 8-11, landlord must compensate tenant by paying them an amount equal to 6 months rent.
An exception is that you can rent out your house for 1 year or less as a “Temporary Rental” and not be subject to the eviction provisions.
There has been a lot of discussion about the effects Measure M may have on the rental market. There are also a lot of myths floating around. I’ll address a few of the myths first, then give my thoughts on the discussion.
Myths about Measure M:
Myth 1 – If Measure M passes, it will be near impossible for landlords to evict horrible tenants. My response would be: see the list of ’causes for eviction’ above.
Myth 2 – If M passes, subletters will be able to rent out a house, and their subletter can rent out the house, ad infinitum. Reason 6 above is pretty clear that a subletter can’t become an absentee landlord. The measure does state that renters shall be able to rent out rooms as long as they still live there and don’t exceed the space limitations of the property.
Myth 3 – Renters will be allowed to have millions of people living at a property. I don’t know where this myth came from, but there’s nothing about that in the measure. Current safety guidelines regulate that stuff, and they wouldn’t change.
Concerns about the effects of Measure M:
1.Measure M would reduce the number of available rental units in the city.
This argument is that people will be deterred from renting out houses and will sell their properties to others who no longer rent them out. This could reduce the total number of rental units and drive up the cost of rent. I think this could happen, but it could also happen that the cost of housing drops some, making it more affordable for former renters to buy houses. Also, if Measure M causes someone to sell a house they are currently renting out, they will have to pay the 6 month compensation per number 11 above, so selling the house won’t save them from this cost. This effect might also be a one-time change, causing a spike in rent, but that spike could be compensated for by the subsequent restriction on rent increases. If Prop 10 passes, then the City will also be able to restrict the increasing of rent between tenants. Data from other cities with similar measures would be useful. If you know of such data, please provide links in the comments.
2.Measure M would incentivize landlords to rent to students and short term renters instead of families and long term renters.
This argument is that in order to avoid the future possibility of paying compensation (6 mo rent) in case of eviction for reasons 8 – 11 above, such as the landlord moving in, it would be ‘safer’ for landlords to rent to students or others who will naturally be leaving in a year.
My thoughts are that there would be many reasons that stable, long-term renters would be preferable to landlords, which could balance out the fear of the rare case of having to evict so the landlord could take their place.
3.Measure M would create an entity (the Rent Board) that would cost too much money and not be accountable to the people.
I share this concern to some extent, but not fully. The board would be elected, just like the city council, so there would be plenty to keep them from ‘going rogue’. The board would be funded by fees payed by landlords, and not from the City budget.
4. The compensation cost (6 months rent) for landlord moving in, drastic repairs, etc. is an unfair burden on landlords.- UPDATED
The main reason the 6 months compensation is in this measure is that without it, landlords would have a big incentive to evict tenants so that they could raise rent. This would be pretty bad for long term renters. State Law (the Costa-Hawkins Act ) prohibits cites from restricting rent increases between tenants, so unless Prop 10 passes, which repeals the Costa-Hawkins Act, the only way to prevent the ‘evict to raise rent’ incentive is the just cause eviction provision.
I agree that this is a lot of money. If it weren’t for Costa-Hawkins, I might have made it maybe 4 months in order to get more landlord buy-in. Or perhaps it could have been that the landlord had to give 6 months notice or else pay compensation in lieu. The surprise eviction would be the devastating part and a lot of notice would help with that without putting such a burden on landlords. But I think some eviction protection is very important, because it’s a huge deal to have to find a new place to live in Santa Cruz. For example, I’ve been renting my current house for 18 years. If the landlord decided he wanted to move in and evict me, it would be a catastrophic event for me. If he lost 6 months rent in dong so, that would be significant for him, yes. But I think of it this way: If you invest your money in stocks, etc., you can buy or sell whenever you like without effecting anyone else. But when you invest your money in a rental property, that property is also a person’s home. In our current system, the power balance is completely on the side of the property owner, leaving people who can’t afford to buy a house at the whim of the owner. I’ve lived in SC for 34 years knowing that I could receive a phone call at any time telling me I need to be gone in 30 days. I’m OK with the idea of limiting what people can do with ‘their investment’ in order to give more security to the people who live in that investment.
5. A Measure like M can only be amended by another measure in the future. Therefore, it would be better to have rental rules created by the City Council, so that they could be tweaked as improvements are needed.
This makes sense to me, and is the strongest argument against Measure M in my opinion. Though I will note that a fair amount of the details will arbitrated by the Rent Board, which will be an elected body. Also, the measure could be completely repealed by another initiative if it proves to be bad for the community.
My final thoughts:
Measure M has unfortunately been very divisive. I might wish there had been more input from all sectors in its creation so that the community didn’t feel so split into ‘us’ vs ‘them’. This split and the lack of a co-creation process is a big deterrent for me in voting yes. Even though I’m leaning toward yes, I reject the rhetoric that “all landlords are rich or greedy people.” But I do think that in our system, the balance of power is on the side of the owner and puts long term renters in a very tenuous situation. It’s hard to imagine a proposal that limits the rights of property owners not causing a strong reaction, but we should do our best to do it with care, compassion, and listening. A lot of people on both sides are talking with fear and exclamation points about Measure M rather than sharing data and listening. To me, the most relevant information needed is data from other cities that have done this in the past, and the sincere stories of people, both owners and renters, who would be effected. If you have such data, or any helpful thoughts or questions about Measure M, please share for the benefit of all. Rude comments, exclamation points, etc. may be removed by me.
Join in the discussion below. (respectfully)