Council to Re-Examine Some Provisions of Rental Resources Ordinance

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Back in January 2017, the Davis City Council adopted an ordinance designed to protect renters and ensure that their housing was safe and that codes were being followed—and it included not only rental regulations, but an inspection program.

However, in November, staff brought to council a program update and staff now reports that “we found some ordinance provisions do not work efficiently and discovered new issues that need to be addressed.”

Over the years, we have heard complaints from students, particularly about the failure for their landlords to maintain safe and working rental units, the abuse of the security deposit, the inability to reach the landlord, and many other problems.  The tight rental market has exacerbated these problems, as threats to remove renters for complaints has become amplified because of the scarcity of housing making it difficult, if not impossible, to find a new rental unit mid-lease.

When the issue came up before council, now-Mayor Brett Lee stated that “most of the actors are good actors,” and “most of the rental housing is in good condition,” which leads people to question the need for inspection.

Brett Lee, however, argued, “The city needs a presumptive right to inspect,” he said.  That allows the city to avoid having to go to Yolo County “and show probable cause.”  He said, “This is a burdensome thing to have to do when many of us know that there’s an issue.”

But, clearly, problems remain and the new sections that deal with tenant harassment in particular show an ongoing problem.

Prior to bringing the update to council, the city shared the changes with the stakeholder group, including representatives from the California Apartment Association, local property managers, and ASUCD.

According to staff, “We did not receive any opposition to the ordinance amendments.”

At the core of problem, the ordinance notes that “the city’s rental housing market is greatly impacted by a reduced vacancy rate. As a result of the low vacancy rate, there is an increased likelihood that tenants fail to report substandard and unsafe conditions existing on rental properties in the City of Davis out of fear of losing their homes.”

Substandard residential dwelling units “may include dangerous physical conditions and characteristics that violate state and local building and housing regulations.”

The ordinance seeks to “safeguard the stock of rental housing in the city through a cooperative partnership of owners, tenants, the city and the community. The purpose of the residential rental dwelling unit registration and inspection program enacted by this article is to proactively address, mitigate, and prevent the health and safety risks and adverse secondary effects of substandard conditions at residential rental dwelling units in the city.”

Among the additions are a section on “tenant harassment.”

The new section indicates that no owner or agent of the owner shall do any of the following in “bad faith,” defined as “an intent to vex, annoy, harass, provoke, or injure another person.”

This includes “the intent of an owner or manager to induce a tenant to vacate a rental housing unit through unlawful conduct.”

Prohibited conduct includes: an interruption, termination or failure to provide housing services required by law, failure to perform repairs, attempting to “influence a tenant to vacate a rental housing unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion” or induce a tenant to vacate by offering payments or coercion.

Any person found in violation will be held liable “for each and every such offense for the actual damages suffered by any aggrieved party or for statutory damages in the sum of between one thousand dollars and ten thousand dollars, whichever is greater, and shall be liable for such attorneys’ fees and costs as may be determined by the court in addition thereto.”

In addition, “It shall be unlawful for an owner to recover possession of a residential rental dwelling unit, cause the tenant(s) of such units to involuntarily quit, increase the rent, or decrease services in retaliation against a tenant for exercising his or her right to file a complaint with the city advising that violations of this code may exist on the property.”

The council believes “that a residential rental registration and inspection program will safeguard the stock of rental housing available in the City,” and it will be interesting to hear from students about how effectively they see the inspection program working.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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28 thoughts on “Council to Re-Examine Some Provisions of Rental Resources Ordinance”

  1. Ron Oertel

    But, clearly, problems remain and the new sections that deal with tenant harassment in particular show an ongoing problem.

    It’s not at all “clear” from this article, at least.  Evidence?

    1. Ron Oertel

      I like to think it’s because there’s unlimited “market demand” for my wisdom-packed “market supply” of comments (made at “no charge”, to boot!).

      But in all honesty, I don’t think it’s hurting anything on here, at this point. Seems like the conversation has played-itself out, regardless.

  2. Tia Will

    “induce a tenant to vacate by offering payments…”.

    This seems a little vague to me. Would it, for example, be illegal for a landlord to offer ( not force) a financial incentive for a tenant to move out earlier than intended for a major needed repair or if the property were to be unexpectedly needed by the owner or a family member?

    .

  3. Craig Ross

    Glad the city is taking on tenant harassment.  The problem for years is that the landlords could literally do whatever they wanted because no one would turn them in for fear of retaliation and then they end up kicked out and nowhere to live.

    1. Ron Oertel

      If you have a lease, they can’t “kick you out” without cause.

      From article:  The new section indicates that no owner or agent of the owner shall do any of the following in “bad faith,” defined as “an intent to vex, annoy, harass, provoke, or injure another person.”

      This includes “the intent of an owner or manager to induce a tenant to vacate a rental housing unit through unlawful conduct.”

      Not seeing any actual evidence of this, in the article.  Difficult to believe that property managers would do this type of thing, in regard to someone paying their rent (and not causing damage or other problems). Why would they do so, since they’d then have to find another tenant?

      Seems to me that students (or others) might already go “out of their way” to initiate complaints (if conditions are truly bad), after vacating. Also seems to me that maintenance problems might be apparent before moving in.

      I suspect that there’s “two sides”, regarding many of the claims.  But perhaps periodic, random inspections can be made on a routine basis, rather than relying upon complaints.

       

        1. Ron Oertel

          Here is the only reference you’ve made, regarding (an increase in?) problems.  This (by itself) does not adequately support the rest of your claims in the article:

          However, in November, staff brought to council a program update and staff now reports that “we found some ordinance provisions do not work efficiently and discovered new issues that need to be addressed.”

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          Just to be clear, I didn’t make any claims in the article.  I made a claim in a comment.  The article merely quotes from the staff report.

    2. Ron Oertel

      Another question I have (regarding the “tight” rental market):  Why don’t landlords charge even more, to the point where vacancies start increasing?  (That’s normally what one would expect, in a pure supply/demand model.)

      Especially since Davis is not an “island” onto itself, in terms of the rental market. There’s rentals in nearby towns, as well. (Of course, this ignores the fact that midtown Sacramento, for example, has a HIGHER average rental price than Davis – as I recall from a previous article I posted. I realize that UCD students probably wouldn’t choose midtown Sacramento, but there’s certainly less-expensive areas – nearby.)

       

        1. Ron Oertel

          Maybe.  How much has it increased in Sacramento (for example), during that same period?

          How much did either location increase during the multi-year recession?

          Again, I’m wondering why rent doesn’t increase even more, using the supply/demand argument?

          It is expensive, especially when considering tuition increases, failure of salaries to keep pace, etc. That’s why people (if they can) buy houses, and/or move to cheaper areas. That’s also why there’s a net outflow of lower-wage workers (in particular), to other states.

  4. Bill Marshall

    I’m wondering why rent doesn’t increase even more, using the supply/demand argument?

    Cute.

    “supply/demand” is real, @ one level… but is not the only factor… many others… said as someone who was a SF (single family house) landlord for over 20 years (but, no longer)…

    Wonder away…

    1. Ron Oertel

      The “supply/demand” equation is frequently cited on here as the reason for rent increases.  Therefore, I asked why rent hasn’t increased even more than it has, until such time as there’s an excess of supply.

      In other words, I was making a point (which may be the same as yours, and wasn’t intended to be “cute”).  It’s also the reason that I referenced the rent increases in Sacramento.

      In reference to your other comment, I don’t think that SF rentals necessarily function quite the same as apartment rentals, nor are they included in the vacancy rate that David often refers to. They really should be included in the vacancy rate, to provide a more-accurate picture.

      [Moderator: You have now exceeded 7 posts on this thread. Thank you for your participation.]

      1. Don Shor

        There are limits to how quickly you can raise prices in any market for any goods. You don’t want to be the one landlord who suddenly discovers the upward range of price elasticity for rentals. I’d say the landlords in Davis are comfortable with having raised rents 47.5% over the last eight years, don’t want to go higher faster, and the disparity in actual rent costs of Davis vs. the surrounding communities directly reflects the tight Davis market.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Don:  That wouldn’t explain why the Sacramento market has risen faster than the Davis market.

          Seems to me that rents had to reach a certain level, before new proposals came forth.

          But again, one wonders why rents didn’t rise (collectively) to a point where demand “decreased”.  (That’s the basis of supply/demand arguments.)

          I just saw your note after typing this, so I realize that you’ll delete this comment made in response to yours.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Ron –

            You keep asking why it hasn’t gone up faster, but in effect it has gone up $100 a year, every year, over eight year. What makes you think it should go up faster than that? The Sacramento market has only gone up about $500 over that time, it just started with a lower base.

        2. Ron Oertel

          David:  You and Don keep challenging me, beyond my “comment limit”.  Don had previously suggested not responding directly to each other, as I recall.

          I’ll try to make this my last comment, assuming it survives.

          Supply/demand arguments generally dictate that price will rise to a maximum point, until demand starts trailing-off.  If that hasn’t happened (and it’s difficult to tell, since the survey is not comprehensive), then that would indicate that there’s room to increase prices even further (which apparently hasn’t happened).  So, I was wondering what explanation the supply/demand arguers have for that.

          As you noted, Sacramento’s rate increased faster.  Midtown Sacramento has a higher average rental price than (downtown) Davis, as I recall.  (Would have to find that article again to confirm.)

          In any case, it seems to me that rents had to rise to a certain level, before developers were willing to add supply.

          Of course, there’s also the impact of the multi-year recession (during which rents apparently didn’t rise much at all), prior to the recent price increases.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Forget about the limit. Focus on the problem. You keep saying that the Sacramento rate is faster, but that’s a bit misleading, Davis’ rate actually increased more in absolute dollars. But Sacramento is seeing its rental market constrained as well.

            You have not answered the question: why do you believe that Davis’ rental rate should have increased faster than $100 a year?

          2. David Greenwald Post author

            Something else to keep in mind – demand is not simply determined by quantity, but also ability to pay. Davis’ rental market are students. San Francisco’s is filled by people often making $180,000 a year. They can bear $3500 a month rents, students can’t. That is a factor.

        3. Ron Oertel

          It’s not a question of “should”.  It’s a matter of applying the supply/demand equation.

          What explanation do you have, regarding the reason that prices haven’t risen higher than they have?  (Assuming that demand would continue supporting it – as seems to be the case so far?)

          Your explanation regarding what individuals can afford does not explain the situation, either.

          Again, prices will rise until demand starts dropping off, according to supply/demand theory. If demand hasn’t dropped off, that would indicate that there’s room to increase prices further.

          From what I can tell, neither Davis nor Sacramento have constrained supply, within city limits.  There’s a flood of proposals in both cities, at this point.  (Probably because rents now make it “worth pursuing”, for developers.)

          If you respond again, let’s just leave it at that (and perhaps pick up the discussion some other time – due to the comment limit).

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I’ve addressed your question five times – your premise is flawed. It’s like asking why San Francisco’s isn’t higher. I’ve added to that point showing the difference between who the renters are in Davis (primarily students) as an additional factor. But I think you continually overlook the fact that a $100 increase each year is substantial and you’ve allowed the high base rate of Davis’ monthly rent to distort your analysis.

          2. David Greenwald Post author

            Here are some fun math facts…

            Let’s say year one’s rent is $1200 per month and each year thereafter it goes up $100 per year. That will make it look like the rate of increase is declining each year even as the rent goes up the same amount.

            That’s important because the base rate is a big determination of the rate of increase. Markets where the rent is higher, are likely to produce slower rates of increase than markets where the rent is lower even though in absolute terms the rents go up more.

            So Sacramento has had a higher rate of increase since 2012, but Davis has had its rent go up 40% more over that time.

            I think therefore the wrong question is being asked.

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