Residential Rent Review Panel unable to protect a Concord resident

Yesterday I attended a meeting of Concord’s Residential Rent Review Panel (RRRP).

The RRRP is a three-person committee, created by Concord City Council in mid-2017, whose mandate is to issue non-binding recommendations for disputed rent increases.

Why non-binding? Because a non-binding decision ensures that in the negotiation between tenant and landlord, the landlord will hold most or all of the power. In cities where rent stabilization is becoming a political possibility, a non-binding mediation board is generally endorsed as a fallback measure by organizations which advocate the interests of landlords, such as the California Apartment Owners’ Association.

The case before the RRRP at this meeting was a planned increase of 48%, from $1250 to $1850, at an apartment on Robin Lane.

What “non-binding” means is that when the board arrives at a decision about how much the rent should be raised, the landlord is free to reject the decision. And in this case, that is exactly what happened.

There was extensive discussion of specific maintenance and repair issues in the unit. The landlord’s representative cited the cost of improvements which had been done or were planned, implying that these were a justification for the rent increase.

She also cited the high rents of other units in the vicinity, as evidence that the planned new rent was a current market price.

Here is my audio recording of the meeting, made in exercise of the public’s rights under the Brown Act: http://kenjiforconcord.com/RRRP%202018-10-01%204PM.mp3.

Below is the comment I made, and the response.

———————————-

Kenji: My name is Kenji Yamada. I’m a Concord resident. There’s been discussion of maintenance and renovation details so far, which I take – and I wonder if I’m correct in taking the implication to be that these are the *reason* for the rent increase. So I’d like to know whether the landlord is representing that this $600 increase is only to maintain the current profit margin on the cost of repairs and maintenance done, or planned to be done, plus inflation – let’s say, over the term of tenancy – to maintain a certain level of profit. Or, is the increase more than that, those costs and inflation. And if so, how much more? That’s my question.

Sandeep Singh, RRRP Chair: Well, this is the public comment period. You can make a comment. I don’t think you can pose questions.

Kenji: In City Council meetings it’s normal for the public to pose questions during comment time.

Chair: Well, I – Just this once I’ll allow her [landlord’s representative] to answer if –

Linda Dunn, attorney representing the landlord: I think we’re good with the comment that you have [inaudible] the comment period.

Chair: So, Mr. Yamada, it appears that the question is more of a rhetorical one, right, whether –

Kenji: No, sir, it’s trying to find out an answer to a question. It’s not rhetorical.

Chair: Well, I think she has declined. She is the attorney, and she has declined to answer the question.

Kenji: Okay. That’s on record. Thank you.

———————————-

After public comment, the Chair of the RRRB proposed that the rent be increased from $1250 to $1525 (+22%), rather than the $1850 (+48%) which the landlord had been planning. The other two board members also accepted this amount, so the vote was unanimous. The tenant agreed to accept and pay $1525.

But the attorney representing the landlord responded that “at this time [the decision] is rejected.” This was an available option, since the RRRB’s decisions are non-binding.

She added that “On receiving the written review from you guys, my client will take it into consideration.”

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