San Jose Union Members Urge Black Friday Shoppers to Back Petition Seeking Rent Control

Black Friday shoppers lining up outside San Jose stores for bargains were joined Thursday by petitioners seeking support for city-wide rent control.

The South Bay city is in the midst of revamping its rent control ordinance, which hasn’t seen any major changes since 1979.

Now, renters and community groups are joining forces to try to lower rent increases that, they say, are outdated and unfair.

According to Shaunn Cartwright, a spokeswoman for the South Bay Tenants Union, "I expect [shoppers] to be sympathetic because part of the reason people are in Black Friday lines is they’re looking for a good deal."

She continued: "We’re made up of activists who are tired of asking City Hall to do the right thing. We’re demanding that City Hall do the right thing."

The South Bay Tenants Union wants the city to cap annual rent increases at 2 percent. The group says the current ordinance, adopted in 1979, allows hikes up to 8 percent a year.

Union members also says state protection doesn’t apply to thousands of newer units. Consequently, average rates have gone up about 54 percent in the past five years.

"Landlords think they’re entitled to this 8 percent every single year whereas renters aren’t getting an 8 percent raise every year, so why should landlords?" Cartwright asked. 

Some landlords, who didn’t want to be identified, told NBC Bay Area they need 8 percent increases to maintain investment value and pointed to ongoing maintenance costs.

They were also worried rent control protection would make it difficult to evict problem tenants, as they are called.

James Lee Han, a Peninsula community activist involved in rent control issues in Redwood City, says many towns are watching the fight.

"We need other towns to step up," Han said. "But when a big city like San Jose does it, it gives that impetus. It gives the political capital necessary for other politicians in some other towns to get things done on rent control."

To that, Cartwright added: "We’re going to be out there surfing the crowds, getting people from San Jose to sign the petitions so that City Hall can hear just how many people are hurting and how many people need to have rent control."

The tenant union members plan to be at stores throughout the holiday weekend.

A task force is expected to present a report on rent control to the City Council in December. A new ordinance could be in place by early 2016.

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