Narrow just-cause moves to vote

12/06/2018

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night voted to move ahead with an initial draft of a just-cause ordinance—albeit one that would exclude most of West Marin, after county staff added an exemption for properties that contain fewer than three rental units. The exemption would constrict the ordinance’s applicability in unincorporated Marin as a whole by nearly 70 percent. 

The ordinance, which would sunset in two years, requires landlords to give both tenants and the county a reason for an eviction. The rule wouldn’t prevent landlords from evicting tenants outright; landlords will still be well within their rights to do so should a tenant fail to pay rent, breach the rental contract, participate in illegal activity, threaten violence, or engage in disorderly conduct. 

The draft ordinance, which supervisors will consider on Dec. 18, contains provisions for no-fault terminations: if a landlord plans to permanently remove the unit from the rental market, if the landlord or a member of the family plans to move into the dwelling unit, if the landlord has to make repairs that cannot be completed while the unit is occupied, or if the landlord offers the tenant a buy-out agreement. 

Some landlords and real estate agents at Tuesday’s hearing voiced concerns that the ordinance would make it more difficult to evict problem tenants, which could then make landlords less willing to take a chance on potential renters. Others said it was likely to lead to rent stabilization. 

Although one real estate agent said that unjust evictions were not a problem in Marin, a 2015 county survey found that 45 percent of tenant respondents were concerned with insecurity and instability of their rental home; 59 percent were worried about rent increases and/or evictions. In 2010, 56 percent of renters were paying over 30 percent of their household income in rent. 

Public commenters and county officials all agreed that the state of housing in unincorporated Marin was a growing issue. In Marin—particularly in West Marin—the supply of rental housing is constrained by environmental restrictions and infrastructure limitations such as the lack of wastewater treatment plants. 

Currently, 67,000 people live in unincorporated areas, a number that is expected to grow by nearly 10,000 additional residents by 2040. And out of unincorporated Marin’s 26,000 households, over 30 percent are renters. 

Even supporters of just cause were worried about the rule’s restrictions. Affordable housing advocates from West Marin, including Kim Thompson, executive director of the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin, voiced concerns that the draft ordinance will exclude the vast majority of renters in West Marin. While she praised the draft’s idea of a rental registry—which would collect information about evictions, rental units and rental rates—Ms. Thompson pointed out that it, too would fail renters in West Marin because it would only look at properties that fell under the ordinance. “This compounds the historic inequity of availability of accurate data in our rural communities,” she said. 

In a staff report that accompanied the draft ordinance, Leelee Thomas, a planning manager with the Community Development Agency, and Brian Crawford, director of the C.D.A., admitted that “Since single-family residences and duplexes constitute approximately 64 percent and 3 percent of the housing stock in the unincorporated county respectively, the exemptions would limit applicability to a relatively small percentage of the overall rental housing market.”

Ms. Thomas explained that the restriction to properties with more than two units aligned with the county’s existing code compliance program. 

Though Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said he was “a little concerned it doesn’t go far enough in West Marin to recognize 80 to 90 percent of housing,” he said he still wanted to move forward with the ordinance, as he felt it would provide stability for some and start building housing data that the county desperately needed. 

Ultimately, supervisors voted to move ahead with the draft, with two revisions. One revision included an additional exception for units occupied by a tenant who is also employed as an onsite manager for the property, and the second was a sunset clause that would enable the supervisors to revisit the pilot program in two years and decide if they want to continue it.