By Chris Kramer – June 8, 2023
The city of Monterey had a Town Hall Meeting on May 30, 2023, for public input on the possibility of a new rental registry ordinance in the city. Or so it seemed. What we found out at the conclusion of the Town Hall was that the decision to have a rental registry ordinance was a foregone conclusion that had already been made. It seems that the Town Hall was really geared towards public input on what types of information will be collected by the registry. But not geared towards public input on if the public wants such an ordinance in the first place. The mayor and city council has already decided to move forward with the registry. In the interest of the public, and a democratic process, it seems to me that there should have been a Town Hall for the public to have their voices heard about whether they even want an ordinance like this one at all. My observation on May 30 was that the majority of the Town Hall attendees did not. A Town Hall meeting BEFORE deciding to move forward with an ordinance would have gone a long way in surveying public support or lack thereof. Wasn’t the City Council interested in whether its constituents wanted an ordinance that would violate their privacy and that they would be forced to pay $400,000/year for?
What would this rental registry do? For one, it will collect private details, an intrusion of privacy on owners and renters. Which details will be collected are yet to be determined. It could be the lease itself, certain details of the lease, rental history, what rent is being paid, whether or not the residence is vacant, or other private details. The registry will also add a cost burden to owners and renters. The city says that the rental registry will cost $400,000/year which it will pay for by imposing a fee on owners of rental properties. The city openly acknowledges that landlords will pass this cost burden on to renters. Effectively, the city will be harming the very folks that it hopes to help with the registry (even though I haven’t heard anyone from the city explain how a registry will help renters yet).
What would this rental registry NOT do? It would not incentivize development or add housing supply. It would not reduce housing demand. It would not add additional water availability. It is my understanding that lack of water availability has hindered development. From what I can tell it is just violating privacy to collect information at a cost to renters that they cannot necessarily afford. So why a rental registry at all? What is the motive? Would it be a stepping stone to pass local rent control? But we have statewide rent control. What is the sense in redundancy? Would it be an even tighter control? Or is it a stepping stone to pass a vacancy tax? Or is it a method to monitor and edge out short term rentals?
There are a lot of variables that affect the housing and rental markets. A rental registry collects data. It doesn’t create additional supply. In and of itself it does not alleviate any problems. In my view it creates some problems. It would be great if the mayor and city council would explain to Monterey citizens the value of the rental registry. How can the data that is collected be used to alleviate any problems? Is the idea for rent control or is it for some other idea? Economists advocate against rent control. It has a myriad of unintended consequences. Many of these consequences are very harmful for the very people rent control is intended to help. Rent control incentivizes landlords to sell their rental properties to buyers who then live in the home instead of renting them. Would be landlords invest elsewhere instead of a rental property. Would be developments don’t get developed. The domino effect that occurs over time is that there is an even greater shortage of rentals available. We end up with the opposite outcome than we wanted. Rents are high because of a shortage of rentals. Rent control causes a bigger shortage of rentals. But perhaps there are other ideas that the city has for the rental registry data that I am not aware of. It would be nice if the mayor and city council would share those ideas. Judging by the timing of the May 30 Town Hall, they might share those ideas once they are a foregone conclusion.