for more affordable places to live.
And off to one side sit the members of the Glendale City Council,
eager to empathize with and accommodate their constituents -- a huge
percentage of whom are renters -- yet reluctant to dip their toes into
the turgid waters of rent control.
That reluctance is understandable. Rent control -- which in our view
undermines some basic principles of capitalism and free-market enterprise
-- is also an expensive bureaucratic morass. Cities where it is in effect
spend millions of dollars running the system, then field waves of
complaints -- and lawsuits -- from tenants who believe their units'
maintenance is being shirked to save money, landlords who say they can't
keep up with their overhead because rents are fixed, and taxpayers who --
in cities where it is enacted by ordinance rather than public vote --
don't want to be footing the bill for any of it.
Which is why rent mediation, an idea floated at a City Council meeting
earlier this month, might be the way to go for Glendale.
Here's rent mediation in a nutshell: A panel made up of tenants,
landlords and city officials would hear disputes about rent increases of,
say, 10% or more, in a formal setting open to the public. After hearing
both sides, the panel would issue a nonbinding ruling. If the panel found
for the landlord, the tenant would be expected to live with the proposed
increase or move. If it found for the tenant, the idea is that the public
setting and the formality of the panel's ruling would create a spirit of
compromise, resulting in a smaller proposed increase. However, since the
ruling would be nonbinding, the landlord would be under only a social --
not legal -- obligation to reduce or eliminate the increase.
Little data exists about the success or failure of rent mediation. The
only California examples available are from San Leandro, a Bay Area city
that mediated less than 10 rent cases last year -- hardly a barometer of
the format's success, and a far cry from the number of cases Glendale
could rightly expect to see, given the city's large number of renters.
Or maybe San Leandro is a better barometer than we think. If landlords
there say they plan to increase rents by a huge amount, and tenants
counter by saying they'll take it to the mediation board -- and all the
publicity that would generate -- compromises might be being reached
without a government entity ever getting involved. In short, by simply
existing, San Leandro's rent mediation board might be a factor in solving
more rental disputes than hard numbers indicate.
Regardless, it's an idea worth pursuing in Glendale, which --
particularly lately -- has no shortage of tenants and landlords attacking
each other. And it would give the City Council a way to address the rent
problem without getting sucked into the costly quicksand that is outright