Larkspur officials are still researching tenant relief options

Larkspur officials are going back to the drawing board to hone tenant protection proposals.

After a four-hour workshop on Wednesday, the city council said it needed more information about rent regulations, rental assistance programs and eviction protections.

“It’s a tough issue, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer,” Councilman Scott Kandel said after the meeting. “We weigh the pros and cons on both sides, and try to find something that works for our community.”

For the past six months, the city has been considering whether to adopt rent control laws. Administrators formed two ad hoc committees: Mayor Gabe Paulson and Councilman Kevin Harruff were tasked with studying rent stabilization, while Kandel and Councilwoman Katherine Way studied rent assistance.

The first committee recommended that the council direct the staff to draft the Domestic Rent Stabilization and Eviction Protection Regulation.

The committee recommended creating a rental registry for landlords and setting rent increases of 7% in a 12-month period. Increases above the threshold will trigger a notice of intent from landlords, and tenants will be able to appeal. A valid appeal would lead to mandatory mediation.

The committee suggested that the decree expire in 2030.

“We don’t have a lot of information — that’s part of what keeps this discussion going,” Paulson said. “If we start something and find it’s great, then so be it. If not, then it’s nice to have a sunset.”

The second committee proposed a “means-based” approach to rent assistance.

The tenant protection discussion surfaced last year when renters at the 455-stay Skylark apartments called for help after reporting rent increases of 8.8% to 10%.

Since then, Prime Residential, the entity that owns and operates Skylark, has worked with tenants and the city to create the Housing Fund and Rental Assistance Program, Way said.

The program offers a 15% rent discount and a limit on annual rent increases for families with or less than the area median income of 50%. The program covers 26 apartments, with an average savings of $377 per month, according to Prime Residential. Dozens of other tenants have expressed interest in the program.

The Rental Assistance Committee is also researching the implications of a city-funded rental assistance program. The county directs its funds through a third-party nonprofit. Officials said a similar approach could work in Larkspur. However, financing is an issue.

Residents supported new rules but raised some issues. The ceiling for a 7% rent increase is too high, said Caroline Njoki, president of the Skylark Tenants Association.

“This percentage is far more than the vast majority of Larkspur tenants can afford,” she said. “Do you know anyone who guarantees a 7% annual wage increase year over year?”

In terms of the Rental Assistance Program, it said, means-based programs exclude “significant segments of tenants burdened with rents by placing the burden on tenants to learn about and apply for the program.”

The Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act prohibits local rent control regulations on properties constructed after 1995. Detached homes and apartment complexes are also exempt from rent control.

The Tenant Protection Act sets rent increases at 5% plus the regional CPI rate. The maximum increase is 10%. This law is scheduled to expire in 2030.

City Manager Dan Schwartz said he’s working to provide committees with examples of other tenant protection laws. He said the just cause discussion of eviction laws would be dealt with separately.

Another meeting is likely in February.

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