The City Council last night voted 5-4 to request Cambridge's Rent Control Board to decontrol rents on apartments "that are vacant or will become vacant in the near future."
The council approved Councilor Alfred E. Vellucci's resolution with the conservative Independent councilors favoring the resolution and the liberal CCA and GRO councilors opposing it.
A Rent Control Board decision to decontrol rents on vacancies would affect 25 per cent of the city's apartments which annually become vacant.
Vellucci insisted that the resolution was not designed to abolish all rent control, as the liberal councilors charged. Vellucci said last night, "I am not against rent control. I only want to decontrol vacancies."
The councilors opposed Vellucci's resolution because of the large number of apartments affected. Councilor Saundra M. Graham, an opponent of decontrol, said, "In a city like Cambridge, decontrolling rents on vacancies means destroying rent control."
The resolution's opponents also said decontrolling only vacant apartments was illegal. Councilor Barbara Ackermann said, "The law allows a city to adopt controls or not adopt them. The law does not allow a city to make up its own controls."
A member of the Rent Control Board, contacted last night by The Crimson, disagreed. Paul Watkins, a landlord member of the Board, said, "The Board is allowed to decontrol certain categories of housing."
Watkins said, "If we defined vacant apartments as a particular category, we could decontrol rents in that category."
"But the Board would have to hold a public hearing to convince people that there was sufficient reason to decontrol rents on vacancies," Watkins added.
In support of his resolution, Vellucci argued that decontrol on vacant apartments would relieve the tax burden on small homeowners and encourage new building construction.
The opponents of the resolution said that decontrol would drive land values up, encourage high-rise construction and turn Cambridge into "an ugly, blighted, overbuilt apartment jungle."
Vellucci's sponsoring of the resolution was unexpected. Vellucci was the swing vote in the Council's five-to-four decision last February to retain rent control.