Renters’ Fears Spiraling in Alameda

As rental advocates embark on bolder tactics to keep rents more affordable, city leaders respond with relief, but is it enough? Rent control may be the next big battle


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If the council declines to institute renter protections that satisfy the coalition, the group has said that it may sponsor a November ballot measure seeking a more clearly defined form of rent control. Obtaining the necessary 6,000-plus signatures should be easy, since a majority of residents are renters. But opposition from landlords would be fierce, including the prospect of a countervailing ballot measure.

One likely opponent has already formed, calling itself Alamedans for Fair Rents. The founder of the group is Don Lindsey, who heads Gallagher & Lindsey, a longtime and influential Alameda property management firm. In a well-read opinion piece in December, Lindsey admonished landlords like Sridhar to “think before you act” and advised tenants groups to “work with property owners to negotiate and mediate disputes.”

Most smaller landlords would rather avoid any new rent restrictions cutting into their thin bottom lines. Michael Brown, who owns converted Victorians, told the council that assessment taxes make up one quarter of his costs and that maintenance of the aging buildings isn’t cheap. He said he recently spent $28,000 to repaint his five-unit building. “I like to maintain good properties, and these types of draconian measures that are being proposed clearly impact the viability of the properties and cause depreciation,” he said.

Other landlords have been more pointed in their opposition to rent controls.

“You will see higher rents due to supply and demand,” said Doug Smith, who owns a 63-unit building. “You will see crime increase as the Oakland renters flee poorly maintained, graffiti-ridden rent control housing in favor of our safe neighborhoods, top-notched schools and well-maintained housing. … Eventually Alameda will be Oakland.”

Sridhar Equities CEO Matt Sridhar made similar arguments to members of the council in a letter obtained through a public records request. “I suggest you simply take a short drive from San Leandro into Oakland,” he wrote. “You will see property dilapidation and the effects of rent control. Is this what you want for our city? I don’t think people understand the nonsense that comes with this type of regulation.” He added, “I will tell you with certainty that if you pass rent control, I will sell my property in Alameda and move on to improve another town.”

Meanwhile, Laguardia said he and his fellow Bay View tenants intend to stay in their apartments past the eviction date of their 60-day notices, noting that residents now have legal representation and have refused overtures by Sridhar to mediate the situation.

“You have to fight back and know your rights,” said Laguardia, 48, who has been making periodic appearances before the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee. “We’re in this all together. Whether you live in this building or another building, it’s going to happen eventually. So we have to show these corporate investors and landlords that it’s not going to be as easy as they think it will be.”

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