Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2020  
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  Richmond Rent Program Responses
May 28, 2020

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, I continued Item G-9 due to lack of time. Meanwhile, the Rent Program director responded to some of my statements in (Is it Time for Richmond's Rent Control Ordinance to be Repealed?, May 25, 2020). I have, in return, responded to his responses. In the table below, the first two columns are from Traylor. I added the third column with my responses.

If you look at the Rent Program 2018-19 Annual Report, it has almost no information about the effectiveness of the Rent Program. It is all about how many units in the program, how many consultations, how many counseling sessions, how many workshops, and on and on. During that year, with a $3 million budget, there were only 8 rent decreases ordered.

From: Nicolas Traylor <>
Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2020 2:16 PM
Cc: Laura Snideman <>
Subject: Item-G9 and Clarification on May 25 E-Forum

Dear Mayor and Members of the Richmond City Council,

I hope this message finds you well. I am reaching out to provide contextual information and responses to the Mayor’s May 25, 2020, E-Forum article, Is it Time for Richmond's Rent Control Ordinance to be Repealed? in light of Item G-9 on the City Council agenda this evening.

Ordinarily, I would refrain from responding, but given the extraordinary consequences posed by Item G-9 and the notion that facts matter, I thought it appropriate. I did not address every issue raised as some seemed to be ad hominins and I much rather not be weighed down by those rhetorical devices.

As a side note, some of you may already know, but for those of you who don’t, the Richmond Rent Program has stepped up to fill a void and has been providing service for those who have been impacted by COVID-19. Not only have our staff attorneys aided the City Attorney’s office in both understanding the intersection between housing law and local police powers, they have also aided in drafting and reviewing various iterations of Orders that you all have considered and passed. Additionally, our housing counselors and attorneys have engaged with numerous Landlords and Tenants, explaining the meaning of the Order, how to comply, and where to seek additional services if you are a Landlord who cannot pay your mortgage. We have successfully brought a property owner of 1,008 rental units into compliance with the COVID-19 Emergency Order prohibiting evictions, and are in frequent contact with other property owners to ensure that they understand their rights and responsibilities. I am proud to exclaim that we have reached over 4,500 residents last month with our message around Landlord/Tenant responsibilities and rights related to COVID, compliance with the City Order, and above all, understanding rights and responsibilities under the Rent Ordinance. Now more than ever is the time for a united front in tackling the housing issue and not the interjection of greater uncertainty. I have attached the March and April Rent Program Monthly Reports supporting the above assertions.

As it relates to Item G-9 and the Mayor’s E-forum article, below please find clarification to each of the statements in the E-Forum article. Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions or wish to discuss further.


Nicolas Traylor, Executive Director
Richmond Rent Program

E-Forum Statement (from Traylor)

Rent Program Response (from Traylor)

TOM BUTT Counter Response (from Butt)

“The average market rent increased only 5.6% annually from years 2010 through 2015”

The E-Forum did not cite a data source; however,
according to the City’s 5th Cycle Housing Element, the median gross rent among Richmond households is estimated to have increased by 48.7% from $764 in 2000 to $1,136 in 2010 (Table 8). Median market rate rental prices have increased over 50% since 2000 (note that inflation in the San Francisco Oakland-San Jose area was approximately 40% between 2000 and 2014, based on annual CPI averages). The City of Richmond’s 2015-2023 Housing Element states that in general, the data suggests that Richmond’s rental housing stock has become less affordable to very low, low, and moderate-income households, as defined by state guidelines.

My source is, but there are other rental tracking sources that provide consistent information.

The escalation in rent from 2000 to 2010 and from 2000 to 2014 cited by Traylor is irrelevant in evaluating the Rent Program. It’s just obfuscation. The ordinance was not passed until 2016 and did not go into effect until 2017, based on rent levels in 2015. Anything that happened before 2017 had no relationship to Rent Control, except that 2015 rent levels are a basis for allowable rent increases.

I agree with Traylor that “that Richmond’s rental housing stock has become less affordable to very low, low, and moderate-income households, as defined by state guidelines.” However, the Rent Program is not producing any additional affordable housing and is exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing.

“The Rent Control and Just Cause ordinance was adopted in the hopes that it would lower rents and end foreclosures”

The Fair Rent, Just Cause for Eviction, and Homeowner Protection Ordinance (“Rent Ordinance”) was not adopted to lower rents and end foreclosures. Rather, the Rent Ordinance helps renters by stabilizing rents through limiting increases to 100 percent of inflation for existing tenancies and preventing arbitrary and/or discriminatory evictions to the greatest extent allowable under State law to prevent displacement. Due to the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act (State law), Landlords are permitted to determine the starting rent for new tenancies. The Rent Ordinance does not lower asking rents, it stabilizes them for existing tenants.

It is my opinion that many people believe “The Rent Control and Just Cause ordinance was adopted in the hopes that it would lower rents and end foreclosures”

The fact is that there is no evidence that Ret Control has been more of a factor in “stabilizing rents” than market forces have been. Rent increases driven by the market have been lower than inflation, making rent control irrelevant.

Similarly, there is no evidence that Just Cause has prevented any significant number of “arbitrary and/or discriminatory evictions.”

“Rent control covers only 38% of Richmond rentals”

According to the Rent Program FY 2020-21 Budget and Rental Housing Fee Study, there are an 17,633 Rental Units in the City of Richmond covered by the Rent Ordinance. The Just Cause provisions of the Rent Ordinance cover all of these units. However, the rent control provisions of the Rent Ordinance covers 7,433 of these units or approximately 42%.

According to the Rent Program 2018-19 Annual Report, there were 7,802 covered units and 11, 457 partially covered units (Just Cause only), for a total of 19,259 units in 2018-19. That is 40.51% It appears we may both have been wrong.

It is interesting that Traylor now claims there are only 17,633 rental units in the City. That’s a reduction of 1,626 units (8.4%) since 2018-19, probably due to units being take off the rental market as a result of Rent Control. Fewer rental units result in market pressure to increase rents for everyone, exactly the opposite of what people think rent control does.

“Based on the Rent Program 2018-19 Annual Report, there were 4,211 legal terminations of tenancy in the year reported, meaning that over 20% of total tenancies result in evictions, most for non-payment of rent. There is no evidence that the Rent Program prevented even a single eviction.”

96% of the 4,211 notices referred to here were not, in fact,  unlawful detainers (i.e eviction lawsuits), but instead 3-day notices to pay rent or quit (move out), which are often used as warning notices Landlords serve to Tenants. Tenants have the ability to cure the delinquent rent and remain in their homes, and, in fact, Landlords communicated that it is rare that such notices actually result in an eviction. For this reason, Landlords have requested that we NOT include 3-day notices to pay rent or quit (move out) in our total termination of tenancy notices. However, since the notices are technically required to be filed with the Rent Program because they could result in an eviction (after an Unlawful Detainer or eviction lawsuit has been decided), we’ve always reported them in our totals for transparency. With the current data, it is impossible to determine how many Tenants were evicted based on nonpayment of rent 3-day notices.

What this shows is that the Rent Program has no idea how many evictions occur or what effect Just Cause provisions have on preventing evictions.

Regardless of whether evictions follow 3-day notices, the fact that 20% of tenants can’t pay rent, despite Rent Control, shows that our problem cannot be solved by Rent Control. We need more affordable units, something that the Rent Control doesn’t provide, and in fact exacerbates.

“Neither the city manager nor the City Council have any control over the Rent Board budget or the compensation of its employees.”

The City Council was required to adopt ordinances establishing all Rent Program positions, including the salary ranges of each position. See, for example, Ordinance 19-17, adopted by the City Council on November 21, 2017, which established the Executive Director’s position and salary, and Ordinance 20-17, also adopted by the City Council on November 21, 2017, which established the Deputy Director’s position and salary.

The City Council approved a range ($108,288 to $172,368 for the director and $97,044 to $154,476 for the deputy director), but neither the City Council nor the city manager control raises within the ranges. It appears that I voted in favor of both ordinances, something I can’t explain. I should pay more attention to what is on the Consent Calendar.

“The Rent Program operates only six hours a day, making a nice 36-hour week for its 21 employees and interns.”

All 13 Rent Program employees have a 37.5 hour work week, consistent with requirements for all full-time City staff. The Rent Program office is open to the public for walk-ins Monday through Friday, from 9 AM – 12 PM and 1 PM – 4 PM. Staff members report to work from 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM, consistent with the City’s administrative procedures.

If Rent Program staff are in the office from 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM, why aren’t they accessible to the public they serve?

Traylor’s assertions about accessibility of staff members simply isn’t accurate. On May 28, 2020, I called the Rent Program number (510-234-RENT) at 9:00 AM. After ringing for a full minute with no answer, my call was answered by voice mail

“The office has been closed since March.”

Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19), the physical Rent Program office at City Hall has been closed to walk-ins since March 16, 2020, to slow the spread of the virus and protect the community. Staff members are accessible Monday through Friday, from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM by phone at 510-234-RENT or by email at

Traylor’s assertions about accessibility of staff members simply isn’t accurate. On May 28, 2020, I called the Rent Program number (510-234-RENT) at 9:00 AM. After ringing for a full minute with no answer, my call was answered by voice mail.

“When Richmond adopted rent control and just cause, the city was somewhat of a neo-pioneer, with the first new rent control and just cause ordinance in the State of California in 30 years.
Since then, Governor Newsom signed AB1482, which went into effect January 1, 2020, imposing the first-ever statewide cap on rent increases and requiring landlords to provide a “just cause” when evicting tenants, thus rendering much of Richmond’s ordinance redundant.”

AB 1482 is not Statewide rent control, AB 1482 is an anti-rent gouging law that places rent caps and the requirement to have just cause to evict for tenancies of 12 months or more.
The key difference in purpose between the two laws is that the Rent Ordinance serves to maintain healthy housing and stability in Richmond and AB 1482 is meant to prevent rent gouging and address the statewide housing crisis.

Unlike AB 1482, Richmond’s Rent Ordinance stabilizes rents by limiting annual increases to 100% of inflation and prohibits Landlords from terminating a tenancy (no matter how long the tenant has lived in the unit) without one of the eight Just Causes for eviction, such as nonpayment of rent, breach of lease, failure to give access, owner move in, etc.

The only mechanism of enforcement provided by AB 1482 is through private right of action. The City cannot enforce state law. Unless and until there is a statewide Rent Board, renters without local Rent Boards must hire their own attorneys to exercise their rights under AB 1482. Renters in Richmond can currently exercise their rights for free by filing a petition with the Richmond Rent Board. Renters in unincorporated Richmond and other parts of the state where a local Rent Board does not exist need to hire their own attorney to exercise their rights, which is cost-prohibitive for many renters.

While there are minor differences between AB 1482 and the Richmond ordinance, they accomplish much the same thing. Are Richmond’s protections so much more important and effective than the state’s that they justify a $3 million annual budget and a staff larger than the Richmond Planning Department?