Nov 7, 2022
After much hard work by Labor Council advocates and Marin Democratic Socialists of America, Fairfax became the first town in Marin to pass a rent control law in November 2022!
Published November 7, 2022 in the Marin IJ. Article linked here.
Fairfax has become the first town in Marin, and smallest in the state, to pass a rent control law.
The Fairfax Town Council approved the rent stabilization and just-cause-for-eviction laws in a hearing last week that lasted about three hours. While renters and housing advocates celebrated the historic moment, landlords, attempting to block the approval, were not happy.
“I’m extremely upset about it,” said Deborah London, a landlord. “There isn’t any way landlords can continue to operate under these strangulating restrictions. This needs to be put on a ballot. The people need to vote on it, not five council members.”
London was among the landlords who said they were not notified about the proposed law, and they didn’t realize the council was so close to approval until the last minute.
Philip Salaverry, who owns a rental property, said he is among the residents who are below the poverty level, and that these laws put a strain on his already difficult financial situation.
He said the laws will discourage homeowners from creating rental accessory dwelling units, known as in-law units, and they will mean deferred maintenance on rental properties. He said rents will rise in buildings that are not rentcontrolled.
“It’s a terrible idea,” he said.
Over the past few years, Fairfax has taken a number of actions to bolster tenant protections. The council has adopted an income-based rental discrimination prohibition, mandatory mediation for rent increases exceeding 5% and a just-cause-for-eviction law.
More recently, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the council adopted an urgency moratorium on evictions without cause through Sept. 30.
There are some state regulations on rent control. The Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act prohibits local rent control regulations on properties constructed after 1995. Detached homes and condominiums are also exempt from rent control.
Also, the Tenant Protection Act of 2019 imposed statewide protections that are set to expire in 2030. The law caps rent increases at 5% plus the regional consumer price index rate. The maximum increase is 10%.
The Fairfax rent stabilization ordinance caps annual increases at 60% of the increase in the regional consumer price index. The annual adjustment, however, cannot be greater than 5%, making it one of the strongest rent control laws in the state. The cap is retroactive to Feb. 2.
The new just-cause-for-eviction ordinance strengthens the existing law with additional protections for elderly, disabled or terminally ill tenants. It would add school-year eviction protections for educators and students; require landlords seeking no-fault termination to make relocation payments for tenants; and tighten breach-of-lease qualifications.
The ordinance also establishes protections against what fair housing advocates call loopholes in the Ellis Act, a law allowing landlords to remove residences from the market. The ordinance states that a displaced tenant could return to a home at the same rental rate if residence is returned to the market within two to five years.
Curt Ries, a San Anselmo renter and leader of the Marin Democratic Socialists of America, has been rallying renters across the county urging local officials to adopt these protections.
Tenants and supporters attended the Nov. 2 meeting to share stories about being priced out of Fairfax, or seeing family members and friends forced to leave because of rising rents.
“We are overjoyed that Fairfax has become the first town in Marin to pass rent control,” Ries said after the decision. “This campaign has always been about providing basic housing security and protections against displacement for Marin renters. Fairfax has taken the lead in what we hope will be a countywide movement to treat housing as a human right and to make Marin livable for ordinary working people.”
The town will work with Legal Aid of Marin and the city of Berkeley, which has a rent control board, for support services as the rent stabilization program gets off the ground.
Lucie Hollingsworth, an attorney at Legal Aid of Marin, said her staff is working to host informational meetings for landlords and tenants once a month for free.
“Housing justice in Marin requires the foundational acknowledgment that rental costs here are inequitable and make it nearly impossible for low-income families to stay in their homes,” she said after the decision.
She said the Town Council “recognized this inequity and made their stance clear: tenants deserve strong protections that increase equitable housing in Fairfax.”
The Fairfax Town Council voted unanimously to approve the rent control ordinance. The council voted 4-1, with Councilmember Barbara Coler opposed, to approve strengthened just-cause-for-eviction protections.
Coler said she wanted to spend more time reworking the just-cause for eviction laws, calling some of the new requirements “burdensome.”
According to town staff, there are 1,200 households that rent, representing one-third of town residents. Of those, more than 70% are low- to extremely-low-income households.
“This isn’t just data,” Mayor Stephanie Hellman said. “These are people in our community. These are people and they matter.”
“I’m very proud of this work. I see it as anti-displacement of community,” Hellman said.
The law takes effect Dec. 3. However, the council will have another discussion to establish an implementation date for the new rent control program.
The staff report and ordinance is at bit.ly/3zWvDlY.