CONCORD MAYOR, Edi Birsan
The emotions and pain that come because of the sudden instability caused by receipt of a notice of termination of a month-to-month lease became apparent during recent Concord City Council meetings, when the Council heard numerous complaints regarding large rent increases and evictions.
This was brought into sharp focus at the Council’s last meeting when complaints regarding the acquisition of an existing 29-unit apartment building by a new owner, who issued termination notices to all residents with month-to-month rental agreements. The stated reason behind the eviction notices was to make room for major refurbishing and improvements to the building, which would necessarily result in a raise in future rents. During this meeting, the Council was asked by various tenant groups to address the situation through some kind of legislation.
Some of the tenants had lived there for more than a decade under the previous owner; all were on a month-to-month basis (the default agreement after a typical one-year lease expires).
While a 60-day notice is normally all that is legally required, in this case the emotional consequences of the evictions on these tenants were not ignored by the owner. Instead, the owner did offer the evicted tenants’ financial compensation, temporary alternate living arrangements, and the right to return to their apartments after the completion of the improvements albeit at a yet undisclosed higher rent.
As Mayor, I was able to set up a meeting between the new owner and a tenants’ representative to work out the formal details of this arrangement. Whether the final details will be satisfactory to all concerned remains to be seen.
The brouhaha surrounding this latest issue brought about a call for the City to address both the legal and ethical questions surrounding the overall housing issue. Specifically, what should be the City’s role be regarding the complex issues surrounding eviction? Should there be differences in how these issues are addressed in the case of smaller individual properties vs. larger corporate properties and/or between individual single-family homes vs. larger multi-family structures? Should a 4-plex be addressed differently than a building of 28 or more units? What about someone simply renting a room in a private home?
What about properties held for long term investment vs. properties bought on speculation? Does the motivation of the owner to evict his tenants matter; for example, his need or desire to evict to rehabilitate a rundown building, vs. his desire to demolish the building to make way for an alternate land use, such as an office or commercial building? Should landlords always be required to provide alternate housing to those evicted, especially those who have lived in their units for decades, those with disabilities, or those otherwise in danger of becoming homeless should they be priced out of the local market?
What are the limits of an owner’s responsibility to his tenants? Would it be fair to impose new rules retroactively on long time owners that could have financial impacts not originally anticipated? Do questions such as the profit/loss situation of the landlords or the income of the tenants even matter to the City as a whole? What about the ethnicity or race of either the owner or the tenant? Or the size of the affected tenants’ families? Do the same questions apply to people living in Federal Housing or in (deed restricted) affordable housing?
If the City is to adopt legislation addressing these issues, we will have to define what the expectations are for both tenants and owners, so that we can balance the interests of both sides while reducing uncertainty for everyone. There are quite a few ‘Just Cause Eviction’ codes out there that could be looked at as examples of what could be done here. What would be appropriate for our city at this time? The big challenge will be to address all these questions while not discouraging future investment in rehabilitation and new construction.
At the end of the September 25th Council meeting I seconded a motion by Tim McGallian to put an emergency ordinance onto the next Council agenda to allow for discussion of these issues. Unfortunately, this motion was not supported by the remaining Council members, preventing these issues from even coming before the Council for discussion.
Fortunately, both candidates running for Council in the Monument District have stated publicly that they are willing to address these housing issues directly, so we can anticipate that such a discussion will become a possibility in December.
These are complex issues and I welcome your views. I am in the process of preparing the next Pulse of Concord survey and would welcome your suggestions for questions to be included in the survey. Please write to me directly at EdiBirsan@gmail.com.