Fairfax delays enhanced renters’ protections for more revisions

The Fairfax Town Council has delayed its vote on proposed tenant protection regulations pending further revisions in the coming weeks.

Town Attorney Janet Coleson told the council at a special meeting Wednesday that the just-cause-for-eviction ordinance and the rent stabilization regulations were not ready for prime time.

“I believe in reviewing what we did, there are a number of changes that need to be made to this,” Coleson said, recommending that the council hold off until Oct. 6 before taking a vote.

A bulk of the revisions involved the framework and provisions of a proposed rent control board, Coleson said. For example, rather than having an autonomous board, the council would serve as a rental appeals board.

The council took public comment and reviewed the ordinances with a fine-toothed comb, recommending a number of deletions and rewrites to the proposed language.

Curt Ries is a San Anselmo renter and leader of the Marin Democratic Socialists of America, a group that is collecting signatures countywide to enact rent control across Marin. Ries said that he was disappointed that the hearing Wednesday had been scheduled for two months, and that after a workshop a few weeks ago, the staff report and proposed ordinances were not available for public review until Monday.

“And I’m frustrated that the ordinances contain issues serious and numerous enough to require delays in the council vote,” he said, noting that a model ordinance was drafted six months ago.

Ries urged the council to move swiftly and vote yes.

“Give Fairfax residents the real protections and rights that we all deserve,” he said.

Veronica Geretz said that in the 10 years she has lived in Fairfax, she has moved five times because of rent increases.

“I am severely rent burdened and would feel wildly relieved at the idea of rent stabilization,” she said.

Over the past few years, the town has taken a number of actions to bolster tenant protections. The council has adopted an income-based rental discrimination prohibition, mandatory mediation for rent increases exceeding 5% and a just-cause-for-eviction law.

More recently, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the council adopted an urgency moratorium on evictions without cause through Sept. 30.

The council agreed in March to look into stronger tenant protections. After several lengthy public discussions, the council agreed to form two separate ordinances, one on just cause for eviction, the other on rent stabilization.

The proposed just-cause-for-eviction ordinance would strengthen the town’s laws with additional protections for elderly, disabled or terminally ill tenants. It would add school-year eviction protections for educators and students; require landlords seeking no-fault termination to make relocation payments for tenants; and tighten breach-of-lease qualifications.

The proposed rent stabilization program would include establishing base rents and rent ceilings, mediation services, hearing officer proceedings and an appeals process, among other regulations.

Legal Aid of Marin and the city of Berkeley will provide support services.

The council was apologetic for the delay.

“The need is clearly there to do something for our residents and the people who work in our community,” Councilmember Chance Cutrano said.

“Please, please know that we’re trying to do something that will work in a small town,” Councilmember Renee Goddard said. “So we’ll get this done, but we want to get it done right.”

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