Rent Control Records Being Scanned
2022-09-27 Business Update - Rent Control Records Being Scanned
Douglas Quattrochi - Doug
Our business update for today is about records relating to rent control being scanned in the City of Cambridge.
Now our main focus is educating folks about how to create better rental housing. That’s certainly our mission, and so it’s really frustrating when a city like Boston creates something like the Rent Stabilization Advisory Committee, trying to resurrect failed ideas. We tried rent control in Massachusetts; it did not have the desired effect on quality of housing, quantity of housing. It had racist disparate impact, a whole lot of things that we want folks to know about, and that’s why we have in coordination with the Cambridge Historical Commission, started scanning. Lots of records from the rent control years. particularly it the City of Cambridge, we learned there are about seven or eight linear feet of records, and we started scanning these and we’re going to use those to educate the public about what rent control was really like.
Here is just a sample of what we have in store. I’ll just go through a couple of different documents here, so a lot of the minutes from the rent control hearings. For instance, this is March 2, 1983, a lot of the minutes are handwritten and they go into detail enough to determine kind of what was going on at the hearing. For instance, 105 Winter Street, agreement contested by tenant, said she did not understand, remand for hearing translator.
So you can see, the rent control boards were just like courts, unelected and unaccountable courts in the sense that they tried to hold themselves to court-like standards, having translator access. It’s a good thing to have translators. Of course, the rent control boards are not professional like courts. They just act like it.
You see the rent control boards were swamped with inflation-rate adjustments. In Cambridge, you couldn’t change the rent at all unless you had permission. So a huge number of records is just ordinary landlords and ordinary businesses asking for increases just to keep pace with inflation, Affirm 4-0, Affirm 4-0, Affirm 4-0.
Sometimes, you find interesting things about cost of capital and appliances. Here you go got a landlord who had refrigerators from 1973, so they’re 10-year-old refrigerators, needs to spend $153 each, $459 total, and the Rent Control Board orders that the landlord capital these over some time period. We can’t tell from the record, presumably five years because they allow rent increase of $31 per unit. Now if it’s a 5-year capitalization, that landlord is not even making back their costs, and if you consider inflation, which in 1983, was on average 13 percent a year, you can realize that the Rent Control Boards weren’t encouraging landlords to keep up with maintenance. As a matter of fact, they were discouraging repairs by having landlords front the costs of these appliances and upgrades and then recover it very, very slowly over a period of time, so that’s not great.
Now if this $31 per unit per month, then obviously it’s much faster, but like I said, we don’t know the capitalization time, so this the basis of an inquiry but it shows the kind of detail the Rent Control Board is going to.
I’d like to give a couple more examples here. You can see for instance, in case we have an agenda that are typed up, we don’t know yet all the coding, so we’re working on that. These could be people who are running the hearings, it could be types of hearings, we’re looking into that.
Another example the kind of thing you can see in the rent control records, you can see dispute about who actually paid for the cost of, for instance this water heater, $1,255. They don’t know. Did the owner pay for this or did the Rent Control Committee pay for this with a rent increase effectively and was that below-market rates or not? And so basically, they say, “No rent increases approved until we can find out what the history is on this one specific water heater.” Most people wouldn’t think rent control boards had much to do with refrigerators and water heaters, which is why this work is really important.
Another example of the kind of thing that we’re seeing in the record, gross unprofessionalism. Here’s a record, a minutes of the Rent Control Committee, “both parties are miserable; vote to grant merely because they represent the landlord but both sides should grow up.” Can you imagine if a judge wrote that into their decision. How completely unprofessional maybe be viewed by all the peers, yet that’s kind of what the Rent Control Committee put into the records here on that decision.
I’ve got just another example or two here. This is an example of a just cause eviction showing up here, so you look at what’s going on here, “troubled by the situation where the first purchaser had a preexisting tenant who is now gone, and there is not documentation.” The Rent Control Boards were very much interested in enforcing a provisional just cause eviction and control where people live, and who could live there.
All right, so one more example here. “Give the landlord 30 days to produce Lynn Anderson at a hearing.”
There are the official minutes, mind you.
“The burden is on him if Lynn does not appear, the case and memo appear go before the board without a remand hearing.” In other words, the board is going to decided against the landlord there. We don't know who Lynn Anderson was. We’ll try to find out, but the basic gist of it is the Rent Control Board go into extreme minutiae in all different matters.
I’ll give you another example. They’re looking at whether the fuel was allocated correctly. They require the landlord to produce an itemized set of fuel bills down to the penny, how much they’re paying per gallon. If you buy fuel now, you might be interested to see prices at $1. It just goes on and on. There’s discussion about fuel.
These documents that we’re looking at here have been just a couple out of 206 pages from just the beginning of in a set of dozens of years of rent control, decades Cambridge, Boston, Brookline, and Saugus combined.
We’re going to keep scanning these and keep educating folks about what the rent control years were like. Stay tuned for more.