Marin County considers mandatory rent-increase mediation

Edgewater Place in Larkspur is affordable housing for those making 50-60 percent of Marin's median income. One-bedroom units start at $1,046 per month. (County of Marin)

NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

In an effort to stabilize rents, the Marin County Board of Supervisors is planning to discuss an ordinance that would help resolve disputes when landlords try to raise rent by more than 5 percent.

The board is recommending adoption of a mandatory mediation program called Rental Housing Dispute Resolution and deferral of the Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations (i.e., just cause for evictions) Ordinance for one year.

In cases of proposed rent increases of more than 5 percent, a Rental Housing Dispute-Resolution Program would require renters and landlords to participate in mediation, even if the dispute is not settled through the third-party mediator. The program is used in other Bay Area jurisdictions such as Concord, Palo Alto and Union City to address escalating rent increases and prevent housing instability and even homelessness in one of the nation’s most expensive regions to live.

The ordinance would apply to more than 8,000 renter households in the unincorporated parts of Marin, or 36 percent of the population.

There is a severe local shortage of available rental units at prices considered affordable for medium- and lower-wage-earners, according to the county. In the past two years, 70 percent of Marin hires have been people who do not live in Marin.

The first reading of the recommended ordinance is scheduled for Dec. 5. If approved, the merit hearing would take place Dec. 12.

If approved, it would be seen as the second major step to improve stability for renting households in unincorporated Marin.

In 2016, the Board approved a fair housing ordinance that established source-of-income protections for renters, and in March removed a provision in the ordinance that exempted owner-occupied structures.

The county has also implemented a Landlord Partnership Program, worked to acquire and preserve affordable housing units, and made amendments to the development code regarding accessory dwelling units.

Despite efforts to create affordable-housing opportunities, the Marin rental vacancy rate is less than 3 percent.