Local Texas Effort to Control Rents Stymied by State Preemption

More than 700 signatures on rent petition

BY LYXAN TOLEDANES

One week after she went public with her petition to stabilize rent and, as of Wednesday, “Nicole” has already collected 776 signatures to help her cause.

“We’re getting about 100 signatures a day just by e-petition,” said Speak Up Odessa organizer “Nicole,” who is using an alias to protect her from any retaliation from her apartment complex.

“It’s been growing pretty rapidly,” Nicole added.

Speak Up Odessa began as a local effort to convince Odessa City Council members to pass a rent stabilization or rent control ordinance to combat rising rent.

According to the Odessa Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 Apartment Survey, the average price of rent in Odessa was $810 in July. The average rent in Texas was $819 in July, according to ALN Apartment Data.

Because rent control laws are state mandated, Nicole has expanded her petition to include all Texas residents and now wants to see action in the legislature.

“There’s nothing Odessa can do about it,” Nicole said.

Nicole has set up her fight against the Texas Attorney General’s Office. She wants to present the petition to them by the end of September.

Attorney General Representatives said the office has no control in creating new laws.

Calls to local legislative representatives were not returned as of press time Wednesday.

Nicole said she has also tried to contact U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway but received no calls back.

While she tries to reach the state, Nicole has expanded her efforts in Odessa.

She said she is trying to speak with local businesses to sign the petition, as many employers struggle to pay employees with high rents.

“Rent is so high that they can’t afford employees,” Nicole said.

Nicole is also planning on taking her petition from the web to the streets of Odessa and said that people can begin signing a paper petition by next weekend.

“We’re trying to make this as convenient as possible for people to sign,” Nicole said.

But while Nicole continues her fight against increasing rents, some say the task is futile.

“It’s utterly ridiculous,” Local radio host Jason Moore said. “It’s a violation of principle if you believe in the free market system, and I would say that those that are supportive of something like this don’t know the history of what’s happened everywhere it’s tried.”

Moore said to get an immediate effect on rent, Nicole should instead approach the taxing entities and ask them to lower the tax rate below the effective tax rate.

“It will be an immediate reduction of the cost of property in Odessa,” Moore said.

Texas Apartment Association Vice President of Government Affairs David Mintz said in his 20 years working with the TAA, he has never come across a statewide effort to establish rent control laws.

“I think part of it fundamentally rent control doesn’t work,” Mintz said. “It’s just like any other commodity, but the reality of it is you want a situation where owners are able to recover costs and able to put money back into the property.”

“We live in a market society. Just as the cost of houses has gone up in the region, you’re not going to put a cap on the cost,” Mintz added.

Despite some resistance against such a petition, Nicole said she is ready for the challenge.

“That’s the whole purpose of this. We as citizens of Odessa, we have a voice,” Nicole said. “We don’t have to lay back and take it. California has rent laws, New York has rent laws. They are doing well. Places like that are thriving and people are enjoying living in those communities. I want Odessa to get back to being like that.”

 

Source: Odessa American

Bayonne City Council Refuses to Overturn Vacancy Decontrol Law: Issue Now Goes to Referendum

Bayonne council doesn’t pass rent control ordinance, officials say voters should decide

By Rafal Rogoza 

Bayonne resident Ed Gilligan, addressed the City Council this afternoon during a special hearing on the Keep Rent Control Ordinance held at City Hall.

 

The Bayonne City Council decided not to vote on an ordinance that would reinstate rent control provisions in the city during a special hearing held this afternoon at City Hall, officials say they want the ordinance to be put up to a vote during the November general election.

Roughly 25 people attended the 4:30 p.m. hearing at the council chamber and heard eight speakers who made the case for and against the Keep Rent Control Ordinance that was introduced to the Council by rent control advocates during the August 15 council meeting.
If enacted into law the measure would overturn a vacancy decontrol ordinance passed by the Council in November.
The November law allows landlords to remove units from rent control guidelines if a tenant willingly moves or is legally evicted. Since its implementation 149 units have been permanently decontrolled out of the more than 2,600 total rent control units in the city, officials said.
Toward the end of the hour long hearing, none of the five council members who were in attendance made the motion to vote on the ordinance. The matter will now be decided by voters.
“The Bayonne Municipal Council agrees that the people should decide this important issue,” said Council President Terry Ruane during the closing of the hearing.
Ruane added that the Council took an extensive look at rent control during the November proceedings and concluded that it “leads to substandard living conditions” because landlords can’t afford to invest in their property and it unfairly distributes the tax burden among property owners.
“The rental income causes lower assessed values, unfairly shifting property tax burdens on one, two, three, and four family homes,” he said.
Douglas Wasama, president of Keep Bayonne Rent Control, the advocacy group responsible for organizing the petition drive that let to the hearing, spoke and asked the Council to pass the ordinance but to no result.
“I think they made up their minds back in November,” said Wasama after the hearing. “I’m not surprised.”
Siblings Robert Willard and Lorma Wepner, who own a 10-family brick building on West 23rd Street with two other relatives, spoke against the ordinance. They said all ten units at the property are under rent control provisions with tenants paying an average of $250 in monthly rent.
“It’s unfair for people to be paying $250 in this day and age,”said Wepner, who was pushing for a minimum rent requirement of $450 to be added to the ordinance.
“In this day and age $450 is reasonable rent,” she said, citing rising property taxes and the recently announced rate hike on water. “It would help many, many home owners.”
However, the debate among speakers was split down the middle.
Ed Gilligan, a rent control advocate who helped collect signatures of registered voters during the petition drive, said “Abolishment of rent control was never on the public agenda during the mayoral and council campaign.”
“For some it would seem that the decision to abolish rent control was a result of Tammany Hall-style meetings of our present city government,” he added.
A resident of 51st Street said “There is no way a property owner can make it”, adding “vacancy decontrol is the way to go.”
A case for the Keep Rent Control Ordinance followed from a West 34th Street supporter.
“The reason the buildings are deteriorating is because the owners are pocketing the profits,” she said. “Tenants pay for all improvements.”
Source: NJ.com

North Dakota can’t control rents: Candidates’ positions vary on how best to help housing crunch

Southwest North Dakota has a lot on its plate as the fall elections near. Oil production has helped drive down the state’s unemployment rate, but the benefits do not come without their drawbacks.

By: Katherine Grandstrand, The Dickinson Press

 

Southwest North Dakota has a lot on its plate as the fall elections near. Oil production has helped drive down the state’s unemployment rate, but the benefits do not come without their drawbacks.

One of the biggest issues in the Oil Patch is the lack of affordable housing, especially rental units, and the mid-income families and individuals that get caught between eligibility for low-income housing and being able to afford rent or mortgage.

That is where imaginative housing solutions come into play, said Dickinson resident Alan Fehr, Republican candidate for one of District 36’s State House seats.

“I think that if people are creative, I think that many people, maybe most people, will find something that works for them,” he said.

Some inventive housing solutions can be hazardous, said District 36 Democratic candidate Bev Berger, Richardton.

“I don’t think just putting campers here and there and everywhere is safe and I don’t think it’s good for the towns,” she said.

 

Rent control

 

There is a North Dakota law that prohibits rent control by local governments.

“It’s an alien concept to North Dakotans. Any time you have something outside the box that people aren’t accustomed to, it’s likely to be a hard sell whether it makes sense or doesn’t make sense,” said Paul Rechlin, executive director of CommunityWorks North Dakota, an affordable housing and community improvement nonprofit in Mandan.

Rent control can come in different forms and, if elected, Berger would have to see a plan before making any decisions.

“It’s totally different when you’re on the outside,” she said.

The market will balance itself out and government involvement in the housing market will only create complications, Fehr said.

“There are some things that government needs to do,” he said. “But I think as a general sense if rents are going up, people need to look at what works for them.”

 

Balance

 

“I understand where some of the rent needs to go up,” Berger said. “But I don’t believe we needed to overly engorge.”

There are some that have lost their housing, especially those with fixed incomes, because of large rent increases, she said.

“The housing crunch is very difficult for some people,” Fehr said. “And, of course, it’s a boon to others.”

Those selling houses and who own rental property are benefiting from the high demand and low supply of housing in the Oil Patch, he said.

After getting burned in 1980s oil boom, many would-be developers and more-so would-be lenders are worried about jumping feet first into large building projects, Rechlin said.

“The whole problem is cost of construction is high and cost of construction has never been higher than it is right now,” he said. “Whatever that cost of construction might be, how can you put that kind of investment into construction of new housing and be able to charge rent that’s affordable?”

 

Solutions

 

“Unlimited money is the only solution and that doesn’t exist,” Rechlin said with a slight chuckle.

But partnerships between government, private companies and nonprofits can create relief, which they are doing in North Dakota, he said.

Temporary housing, when done in a structured manner, may be the answer to overbuilding, Berger said.

“When the oil boom is done, the camps will go away and the communities won’t be left with residential areas that are abandoned,” she said.

In previous sessions, including the last, there have been some programs introduced that have created and funded some affordable housing projects, Fehr said. He worries about too much government intervention.

“We want southwest North Dakota to be a great place to live,” he said. “And that means housing, that means schools, that means roads, that means a lot of things that the government — state, city, county — all share some involvement in making it happen. But it also means, and I think, our economy in some ways may be a wake-up call to people that the government doesn’t exist to solve all problems.”

 

Source: The Dickinson Press 

Third Attempt by Tenant Advocates to Reinstate Rent Controls In Bayonne, NJ

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Bayonne rent control petition is one step closer to being on November ballot

 

Published: Thursday, August 09, 2012, 4:48 PM
By Rafal Rogoza / The Jersey Journal 
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(Rafal Rogoza/Jersey Journal ) Keep Bayonne Rent Control volunteers collecting signatures outside the Avenue C ShopRite in Bayonne.

The petition, which proposes an ordinance entitled “Keep Rent Control Ordinance,” has met the statutory requirement of a minimum of 563 valid registered voter signatures and was cleared yesterday for introduction to the city council, said Bayonne City Clerk Robert F. Sloan.

 

The petition is an effort to overturn an ordinance passed by the city in November 2011 allowing landlords to remove an apartment from rent control restrictions if the tenant willingly moves or is legally evicted. Prior to the change, the apartment would remain under rent control guidelines forever.
Douglas Wasama, chairman of Keep Bayonne Rent Control, a local rent control advocacy group, said if the petition initiative is successful it would remove any changes that the city council made in November.

 

“The purpose of this act is to establish a method to protect tenants in rent controlled apartments,” reads the proposed ordinance’s declaration of purpose, “which is deemed necessary and proper for the good government of the municipality.”

 

Officials at the Office of the City Clerk have verified 713 valid petition signatures out of the 911 that were submitted on July 25 by Keep Bayonne Rent Control.

 

Rental Board Under Fire in Berkeley

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SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA | August 1, 2012, 4:06 p.m. ET

By BOBBY WHITE

BERKELEY—A powerful city agency that regulates some rental rates and intervenes in disputes is facing calls for an overhaul after a highly critical grand jury report in June labeled it “a self-sustaining bureaucracy.”

Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board, a nine-member group of elected officials established in 1980, came under scrutiny last year by the Alameda County Superior Court after two agency employees petitioned the court to investigate alleged unfair hiring practices.

The resulting grand jury report found the agency to be a “bureaucracy that operates without effective oversight and accountability.” The report said the board heavily favored tenants by hiring a lobbyist for pro-tenant issues and contracting with local nonprofits to help tenants fight eviction. The board has raised rental-unit registration fees paid by landlords from $22 at the beginning of rent control in 1980 to $194 today.

 

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(Lianne Milton for The Wall Street Journal ) Jon Vicars, left, vice president of the Berkeley Property Association, in front of his apartment building with Dave Saunders, building manager and tenant. 'We've been complaining for years about how the board has operated and it has fallen on deaf ears,' Mr. Vicars says.

                                                                            

Rent Stabilization Board members are elected to serve for four years and are limited to two terms. Members run in contested elections and can solicit contributions from residents, tenants and property owners.

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley is $1,885, a 21% increase from just five years ago, according to RealFacts LLC, a local firm that tracks rental rates in the Bay Area. In comparison, average rent for a one-bedroom in San Francisco is $2,632, up 32% from five years ago, according to RealFacts.

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