Council Sets the Stage For Rent Control Examination

A dozen angry Cantabridgians from both sides of the rent control tracks waited in line at the City Council speaker's podium Monday night to debate a proposal that would move the council towards an imminent reexamination of the city's rent control policy.

Councillor Jonathan S. Myers said he proposed the resolution, which demands that "rent increases which will force tenants from their homes be strongly discouraged," after a Cambridge property owner greatly increased, and in some cases doubled, the rates on some of his rent-controlled units at the beginning of this month.

Chestnut Realty President Edward Zuker, a self-acknowledged leading property owner, slammed a huge rent increase on the tenants of 33 apartments on Lansdon St., forcing some of them to leave their homes in search of less costly housing. Under Cambridge's new rent control regulations, Zuker was able to raise the rent on his properties to reflect the cost of the extensive renovations he completed on them in 1989.

But the price hike took most of the tenants by surprise, and now many are questioning the very policy that brought them affordable housing in the first place.

Karin Kootz, who has lived in the Lansdon apartments for two years, said that she was not warmed about future increases when she moved in and now faces the prospect of paying a monthly rent of $833--nearly double the $436 a month to which she had grown accustomed.

But Zuker blamed the rent control policy for the difficulties, complaining that it unfairly benefits many tenants who can afford to pay more. "The hardships that we went through as owners--I would never do that again," Zuker said. He added that the Rent Control Board's two-year delay in okaying his raise was the principle cause of his tenants' confusion.

Myers said that the uncertainty and conflict surrounding the issue exemplified the problems the Rent Control subcommittee, of which he is a member, faces in putting together a far-reaching rent control package.

"Our business is not to make you happy or to make any other big landlord happy or any other landlord o tenant happy," Myers told Zuker, "but to run a good rent control system in the city."

The resolution passed 6 to 3 at Monday's meeting.