The Santa Rosa City Council’s closely watched decision Tuesday to pursue rent control came in a contested vote on a complex issue.
Following a lengthy, passionate debate, the council voted 4-3 to instruct city staff begin drafting rules that cap rent increases for older apartments at 3 percent annually and protect tenants from unfair evictions.
The council has been studying the issue for more than a year. But public understanding of the pending moves and the city’s motives remains shaky, as evidenced by some of the comments from the dozens of speakers who addressed the council.
The council will return to the issue Tuesday for another discussion about a related, temporary moratorium on rent increases — a proposal that failed to advance last week.
Here’s a rundown on the rent-control vote and debate playing out at City Hall:
What types of units would be covered by Santa Rosa’s rent control?
It would apply only to multifamily apartments built before February 1995 due to a state law that exempts apartments built thereafter from rent control measures.
Are other types of units exempt?
State law specifically exempts all single-family homes and condominiums, no matter when they were built, from local rent control laws. The City Council is proposing two additional exemptions: duplexes and owner-occupied triplexes, reasoning that a higher percentage of those units are locally owned.
How many units will be affected?
The city estimated that as many as 13,386 of the city’s nearly 70,000 housing units could be subject to rent control. The exclusion of duplexes and triplexes could exempt up 500 to 2,100 additional units.
How did the council settle on 3 percent for the annual cap?
The council rejected an annual increase tied to the inflation rate in favor of one that members viewed as more predictable. Councilman Chris Coursey proposed a 4 percent cap, but council members Gary Wysocky and Erin Carlstrom sought a smaller increase. Carlstrom said she wanted to make the ordinance “as strong as possible.”
What does the cap mean for an average rent?
The average rent in Sonoma County is about $1,652 per month, according to RealFacts. A 3 percent increase would equate to about $50 more per month.
Can rent increases be higher than the cap?
Landlords who want to raise rent higher than 3 percent annually would need city permission. The council asked staff to return with a list of situations under which a rent board might approve higher increases, such as if a landlord has made significant upgrades to the property or if a landlord had a history of below-market rents.
What happened to the moratorium?
Advocates of rent control argued it was crucial the council pass a moratorium on rent increases to prevent landlords from hiking rents before the new rules can take effect. But the council failed to muster the 5 votes needed to pass an immediate freeze. The issue returns Tuesday when a simple majority will suffice to advance a moratorium. When it would go into effect remains unclear.
What would the rent board look like?
The city has a Housing Authority Board that oversees affordable housing programs. The council asked staff to explore having the board handle rent control and just-cause eviction issues as well.