Late last October, Jen Schallert got a notice slapped on the door of the two-bedroom Santa Rosa apartment where she lived with her children. Her lease was up, and if they wanted to stay in the Rincon Valley complex, they’d have to move to a new unit and pay nearly $2,000 per month, a $300 increase.
The 34-year-old divorced mother of two figured for that kind of money, she and her kids ought to at least be able to rent a house with a yard instead of a 900-square-foot apartment.
Ten months after moving out, Schallert, who works in marketing for a telecommunications startup in Santa Rosa, is still sleeping on an air mattress in her mother’s Larkfield home.
“I’ve never had this kind of trouble finding a home before,” Schallert said last week. “My kids had to start school without being able to sleep in their own beds.”
After months of searching and spending more than $600 on rental applications, most of which never even resulted in her credit being checked, Schallert thought she’d finally found a home in Sebastopol that she and a friend could rent for $2,600.
The real estate agent initially told Schallert the place was theirs. But later that evening the agent left her a troubling voice mail message. The property owners had changed their minds and decided to increase the rent to $3,500 per month, she said. She and her friend, along with the 45 other applicants for the unit, were free to submit a new application, plus a new $35 fee.
“I just lost it,” Schallert said.
Incensed and determined to do something about it, Schallert started an online petition demanding the City Council enact rent control in Santa Rosa. It quickly received more than 2,500 signatures.
After a hasty foray into the subject earlier this year, the City Council on Tuesday will convene an in-depth exploration of rent control, or rent stabilization, as modern versions are known.
Few issues facing the city are as complex or polarizing.
Dorothy Beattie, who owns or manages several rental properties in Santa Rosa, has lived in cities with rent control and says she knows firsthand the challenges it can create.
Years ago she lived in a rent-stabilized unit in New York in a building where she said the landlord would look for any reason to evict tenants. The way the rules were structured, landlords could increase rents more on new tenants than existing ones, creating a perverse financial incentive to rent out units as often as possible, she said.
“They terrorized tenants,” Beattie recalled. “It’s extraordinary what happens when you put these types of false limitations on the market.”
Beattie owns an older but well maintained property in the Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood that is divided into four separate units, most of which haven’t seen rents increase in years. She has kept rents stable through the ups and downs because she values her longtime tenants and wants them to take pride in the property, she said.
The idea that the city might now cap annual rent increases means she’d be penalized for being a responsible landlord and prevented from raising revenue to meet ever-increasing costs, such as water, property taxes and maintenance, she said.
She has called the 3 percent annual increase limit proposed by Councilwoman Julie Combs “outrageous.”
The average rent in Santa Rosa has increased 37 percent in four years, according to RealFacts. Here’s a look at how the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the city has increased since 2011:
BY THE NUMBERS
13,386*: Total number of units rent control affects
$11.4 million: Estimated savings to renters by capping rent at CPI
$4.4 million: Estimated drop in business income: $4.4 million
$171,600: Estimated drop in property taxes: $171,600
*City of Santa Rosa estimate; Source: Rob Eyler, PhD.
The City Council will explore the issue 2 p.m. Tuesday, Santa Rosa City Hall