One of the most alarming things I’ve heard as I’ve become more and more involved in housing activism is from working people who’ve told me that they’ve faced more than one rent increase in a year. Most landlords at the upper end of the market already offer twelve-month leases at favorable terms, since that means that they can go longer without having to fill a vacancy. After all, large corporations value stable cash flow, and every day an apartment is left empty is lost money. At the lower end of the market, however, many landlords appear to only be offering their tenants month-to-month leases. Their goal appears to be to simply extract as much rent as possible from their tenants.
Every time their landlord raises their rent, renters are faced with the choice of the disruption and expense of a move or accepting the rent increase. This leaves them in a distinctly weaker negotiating position with their landlords and could allow landlords to extract even greater rents than our already desperate market would allow.
A right to lease ordinance would reduce the frequency of moving expenses and help protect children from the disruption of being forced to move during the school year. It would leave renters in a better negotiating position with their landlord, and make it easier for them to plan a life for their family. Finally, it grants them some small degree of peace of mind. The rent increase might still come, but at least you’ll know when it will come and have time to prepare.
It’s worth taking a moment to discuss that second clause, which requires that the offered leases be at terms equal to or better than any month to month lease offered. This is really, really important. Without this clause, landlords could simply offer the required leases at a prohibitively expensive rate, to force tenants back onto the month-to-month. The ordinance would be toothless.
The costs of this proposal are modest. Other than enforcement and education, it imposes no costs on the City of Sunnyvale. Nor does it impose an unreasonable burden on landlords. Because this proposal does not control how much landlords can increase rents, it avoids the potential economic problems associated with rent control. Nor does it impose any burdens on tenants, who would still be free to take a shorter term lease if that better suited their needs. Indeed, the ordinance would require six-month leases be offered as well as twelve-month leases.
Adopting a right to lease ordinance won’t solve the housing crisis, not by a long shot. But it will give some much-needed stability and protection to tenants and will have no substantial negative effect on landlords. Adopting this ordinance should be a no-brainer.
(Image credit: http://www.jbsa.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2001770707/)