2017 Dialogue #3: Tenants United on RSO

This third facilitated dialogue was yet another break from expectations: we broke into two groups, tenants and landlords, with each in a separate room to talk about the key issues. Regardless of what transpired in the landlord’s room, we tenants found a renewed purpose in working together. And we presented a unified front when it came to defending the current ordinance.

Where the first dialogue simply gathered community concerns and identified key issues; and the second dialogue saw tenants and landlords working together at tables; this time around facilitator Sukhsimranjit Singh proposed that tenants would work together on the five identified issue areas (see dialogue #1) while landlords worked separately in the next room.

It was an acknowledgment that trust had broken down in dialogue #2. Tenants criticized that session’s outcome as too landlord-friendly; our voice wasn’t heard, we said. Today Singh spoke directly to what he called the “trust deficit” and he backed away from last session’s ‘consensus’ recommendation that identified an allowed annual increase in the range of 6% – 8%.

“We’re here to learn from each other,” he said today. “I want you to reach out to your landlord, and you landlords to reach out to your tenants.”

Singh then pushed back on the notion that rents should automatically rise (as if it were an entitlement). He also said that any final rent increase allowance could be tied to an objective criterion (like the change in consumer prices) rather than a percentage number pulled out of the air. “Let’s speak to it today” he added, then broke us into groups.

In the Tenants’ Room

Once the groups were separated Professor Singh called out for tenant-facilitators. Tara Leigh and Naill Reynolds stepped forward. She’s an experienced speaker in front of government panels and he’s a paralegal. Leigh and Reynolds did their best to help us work though the basket of issues to find some consensus solutions on:

  1. Allowable rent increase
  2. Notice versus termination
  3. Relocation fees
  4. Communication
  5. Registry

Allowable Increase. The allowable increase was on everybody’s mind. Tara framed it: “We all want safe and stable housing, and 7% will price us out.” Berke suggested we be mindful of long-term tenants with kids in the schools. “Balance the increase to make rents affordable for young families.” Some suggested a tough line (“Fight for 3%!”) and a couple of us argued for an allowable increase that would be tied in some way to consumer prices (i.e., CPI). But the latter is a nuanced point and the percentage seemed to prevail. A facilitator asked, “Can we say no negotiation on 3%?” (Big agreement.)

No-just-cause eviction. The discussion was short and mostly about clarifying an issue: when can property owners kick out a tenant, and do they need a reason? (Answer: anytime, and no.) After some talk about when relocation fees apply, the verdict here was swift and overwhelming: End no-just-cause evictions. Residential stability seemed to win the day on this point too, especially as other rent-stabilized cities have put an end to involuntary termination.

Relocation fees. The fees discussion focused more on the issue of ensuring stability rather than the numbers in the current ordinance. But the overall consensus was that the relocation fees fall short of the actual costs. If the objective is stability, and the value is to preserve a resident’s standard of living and quality of life in this city, then it goes back to ending no-just-cause evictions. A discussion on the fee numbers may follow in dialogue #4.

Communication. Several residents emphasized how difficult it is to contact the property owner who is actually responsible for making repairs. Tara suggested that communications can be addressed in the lease also: How do we want to be notified? How do we want to communicate? “We may prefer modern technology to communicate,” she said as an example. [Not a few landlords continue to eschew direct deposit and instead stick with the old-school drop box with no immediate receipt available.]

Practical suggestions included having the property owner put an individual’s name and direct contact information on every communication; and providing an emergency number should, say, the roof fall in, which it actually did on one tenant. It too met with approval. [Note that the law requires every landlord to at least post in a conspicuous place the name and basic contact for the owner or manager.]

The registry. It wasn’t really discussed as time was short, but it was clear that there is interest if only because some property owners have come out against it to vehemently. “I care a lot about the registry!” one resident said. [And I agree! It is up an running now, however, and adjustments to that program are probably outside the scope of these dialogues. Or not!]

Wrapping Up Dialogue #3

Our take was that this was a fruitful meeting. We identified important problems, spoke about our concerns, and worked though some possible solutions. The remarkable outcome was seeing tenants motivated to work together and to defend the protections we have under the current ordinance. Tenants united canĀ  find mutually-agreeable solutions that keep us housed and keep landlords in business.

Final note: There will be some in any meeting who see things differently. We welcome hearing from you.