Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres administration is seeking to revive the long dormant Rent Leveling Board which settles disputes between landlords and tenants.
Director of health and human services Donna Nelson-Ivy presented council members last week with a revamped ordinance to revive the board.
Under the new ordinance, the number of members on the board has been reduced to 7 from 14. Members, who are entitled to $50 per month stipend, will be required to serve without pay. Rent increase is reduced to 4-percent per year from the current 5-percent. For seniors and those on disability rent hike is limited to 2-percent from the current 3.5-percent, according to the new ordinance.
Council members were not very keen on the revamped ordinance.
Council president William McKoy said the reduced rent control provisions in the ordinance seeks to subvert the free enterprise system and the invisible hand of the market that ultimately sets the amount of rent to be paid and collected.
“In the free enterprise system it’s very hard to tell me what to charge; the market does that,” said McKoy. Domenick Stampone, the city’s chief attorney, pointed to the existing 5-percent cap on rent increases.
McKoy also targeted the provision that further caps rent hikes to seniors. ”So you’re saying the landlord has to bear the costs for having a senior in the building?” he asked.
“Don’t rent to senior citizens,” interjected Kenneth Morris, councilman, at-large. He said that is the message being sent. Even though it is discriminatory that is how landlords will view it, he said.
Nelson-Ivy said she didn’t see the restrictions in that way. She said the lower cap for seniors on fixed income will alleviate financial pains. “We think this is good because you can’t go over 2-percent. I see both sides now,” said Donna.
“There’s only one side. Downside. You’re going to have less people willing to rent to seniors,” added McKoy.
Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, said seniors are much better tenants. “You’re getting a more reliable tenant,” he said. “There’s a benefit.” He said with seniors you do not have children tearing up the home.
There are a number of seniors raising their grandchildren particularly in poor urban and rural areas due to the breakdown of the traditional family.
Nelson-Ivy also said the new ordinance eliminate stipends for rent leveling board members. In a memo to the mayor, Nelson-Ivy said the city is spending $10,000-$12,000 per year paying the board’s attorney, 14 members, and secretary. These payments are issued regardless of whether there were meetings or not.
There has been just one meeting in the past seven years, she said. She called that meeting to observe the board’s process.
Nelson-Ivy’s new ordinance calls for 7 volunteer members. Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman, suggested the members should be compensated and be given a stipend. The attorney, the secretary, and the administrator for the board get paid, but not the board members, said Velez.
“At least give them something for gas,” said Velez.
Morris suggested 11 members for the board. He said this will prevent friction on the council when it comes to appointments. 2 will be appointed by the mayor and 9 by the council, he said.
The new ordinance exempt rent controls for once abandoned properties that have been rehabilitated.
Nelson-Ivy has attempted to revive the board several times. She submitted updated ordinance for passage, but without success. The council president told her to revise the ordinance based on the council’s recommendation and bring it up at a later date.