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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

As Alameda revisits its rent ordinance, advocates on both sides want changes

Tenants at the Bay View Apartments on 470 
Central Avenue in November 2015.
ALAMEDA
For  tenant advocates, the turmoil at Alameda’s Bay View Apartments symbolizes the plight of renters on the island. This week, families at the property known colloquially as 470 Central Avenue celebrated a victory over the San Jose-based landlord who had once previously attempted to evict tenants in defiance of a then moratorium on rent increases and evictions more than a year ago.

In December, following another round of eviction notices, an Alameda County judge ruled in favor of tenants at 470 Central against property owner Matt Sridhar, saying the notices were unlawful. “We are incredibly relieved to be able to stay in our homes,” said Rommel Laguardia, a tenant at 470 Central. "We’re also proud to have won this fight, and we hope this example shows other tenants that yes, we can win."

Sridhar countered, “We lost it on a very small technicality. There was never any contention that we did not have the right to exercise the no cause evictions allowed under the current ordinance.”

Members of the Alameda Renters Coalition at
a rally in front of City Hall in December.
“The judges interpretation was that our orders were deficient. We disagree," he added, "but it’s just not practical to go through the appeals process.” Sridhar said he intends to re-serve the eviction notices with changes.

The evictions at 470 Central became a cause célèbre starting in late 2015 and bolstered renters’ arguments that landlords in Alameda were pushing out residents in order to reap the benefits of sharply increased rents. The city’s rent ordinance later followed, as did an ultimately unsuccessful campaign last November for a rent control charter amendment.

With the Alameda City Council slated to revisit its rent stabilization ordinance in coming weeks, tenant advocates have been pushing for greater protections to be including, such as eliminating no-cause evictions. The council approved the ordinance last March with among other restrictions, allowing landlords to raise annual rents by up to five percent without a requirement to petition the Rent Review Advisory Committee.

Sridhar said his equity firm has renovated about half of the 32 units and has offered a facade improvement plan for approval by the city. However, according to the city's rent ordinance, he can only move to evict without cause 25 percent of the available units, in this case, 8 apartments. He, too, believes the rent ordinance is substandard, but not for the same reasons as tenant advocates.

Sridhar said the rent ordinance is poorly written and ambiguous. “If an owner like me can’t figure out how to properly send out this notices," he said, "it really goes to underscore the importance of properly writing statutes and the affect it could have on somebody else who may not be as sufficiently capitalized.”

As the Alameda Renters Coalition ratchets up pressure on the City Council to revise the rent ordinance, Sridhar said he advocates city leaders instead roll back some provisions, based on the outcome of the Measure M1 rent control initiative.

"The M1 effort there experienced a crushing defeat and the people of Alameda have spoken and they’re not interested in communism and they would like their city to redeveloped and the landlords to renovate the property," said Sridhar.

Measure M1 garnered just 33 percent support last November. He added, "I can’t imagine the city going now and trying to put in just cause provisions when their constituents have just said exactly the opposite and by a wide margin."

Measure L1, a reaffirmation of the city's rent stabilization ordinance, gained 55 percent support from Alameda voters last fall.

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