The California Apartment Association has announced it is dropping its legal challenges to rent control measures in Mountain View and Richmond.
The decision was discreetly posted late Friday to the CAA's website.
In suspending the lawsuits, CAA officials emphasized that they remained wholeheartedly opposed to rent control. But the decision to abandon the legal challenges was described as a strategic move to take the fight elsewhere.
"We firmly believe that (rent control measures) are unconstitutional, so withdrawing these legal challenges was anything but easy," said Tom Bannon, chief executive officer at CAA. "We are taking this opportunity to explore new challenges to the measures while continuing our aggressive campaigns against rent control."
The announcement comes just as Mountain View implements its rent-control program called the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act, which was passed by voters in November as Measure V. Starting this month, thousands of apartment tenants in the city are expected to see their rents roll back to October 2015 rates.
On Monday, May 8, the city's newly established rental housing committee is scheduled to convene its first meeting to begin creating policies for enforcing the new law.
A trade group for apartment landlords and owners, the CAA has been the chief opponent against citizen-led efforts to curb the rising cost of rental housing in Bay Area cities through price restrictions. The organization contributed more than $1.18 million to oppose ballot measures for rent control in last year's election. That spending helped defeat measures in San Mateo and Burlingame, but a majority of voters backed rent control in Mountain View, Richmond and Alameda.
Following the election, the CAA made good on its promise to take cities that passed rent control to court. Both Mountain View and Richmond were sued in similar lawsuits just before the cities' measures were scheduled to take effect.
In its legal complaints, CAA attorneys made various arguments, but their main theme was that rent control represented an unconstitutional taking of private property. In Mountain View, the lawsuit ended up blocking Measure V from taking effect for about four months, after city officials declined to defend against the temporary restraining order.
But the CAA's suits against Mountain View and Richmond both fell flat as they came up for their first major court hearings. Lawyers representing tenants could point to several California cities that already had rent control policies in effect that had withstood similar legal challenges. Mountain View defended its rent control measure against an injunction request that would have blocked rent control for the duration of the legal challenge, and a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge declined the CAA's request.
"Without the protections afforded by the measure, some residents of Mountain View face excessive rents and arbitrary evictions," Judge William Elfving wrote. "In contrast, the landlords are allowed a fair and reasonable return on their investment."
The judges in the Richmond case also rejected the CAA legal team's arguments that rent control could not go forward.
After reviewing the judges' decisions, CAA officials said they decided pressing the cases would likely prove futile. In changing their strategy, CAA officials say will monitor the cities rollout of rent-control to oppose "onerous" policies and possibly wage future lawsuits. Until then, the association is urging landlords to comply with the cities' new rent-control laws.