San Francisco

The Battle Continues: Richmond Rent Control Law Goes to Court

A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge heard opening arguments Wednesday in a suit seeking to abolish Richmond’s rent control law, which went into effect in December after more than 60 percent of voters gave it their approval.

The California Apartment Association, a powerful landlord group, is suing the city on grounds that the current law is “unconstitutionally vague," among other grievances.  

“There are a myriad of problems with the law and the ways that it’s being implemented in Richmond,” said Attorney Karen McCay, who is representing the landlord group. “It’s fraught with procedural and constitutional problems that should have been worked out before they went on the ballot.” 

McKay has asked Superior Court Judge Judith Craddick to issue a preliminary injunction, which would immediately suspend rent control while the lawsuit works its way through the courts. Craddick is expected to make a decision on the injunction next week.

If the preliminary injunction is granted, some renters will likely see an immediate increase in their rent. When Measure L went into effect, its retroactive provisions required landlords to roll back rents they had previously raised in anticipation of the law passing. 

Attorney Leah Castella, who is representing the city in the lawsuit, argued before the court that similar policies have survived previous legal challenges. She said an established Rent Control Board would hear individual cases and protect the interests of both tenants and landlords, and concluded that the plaintiff’s case lacked merit. 

As it stands, the city’s rent control policy, known as “Measure L,” caps rent increases on apartment units built before 1995 to no more than the rate of inflation — around 3 percent. To the ire of many landlords in the city, it also requires them to have just cause to evict a tenant, such as failure to pay rent or a violation of the lease agreement. It’s based on policies that have already been in effect in Berkeley and San Francisco for years. 

Rent control supporters admit the lawsuit is a setback, but not a surprising one. The protracted fight to bring rent control to Richmond has at times been a battle royale, with advocate group Tenants Together and the real-estate industry going head to head in several heated city council meetings. About 50 percent of residents in Richmond are tenants.

“We all worked hard to make sure this measure was passed,” said City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin, who came to the courthouse with about a dozen other supporters. “We’re not going away. We’re going to continue to stand for our renters, because we want to avoid further displacement." 

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