Rent Control

About 200 Cambridge residents protested proposed rent increases and called for greater sensitivity to tenant concerns at a public hearing of the Cambridge Rent Control board last night.

The board's policy of passing on the costs of inflation to tenants in the form of rent increases undermines the intention of rent control, Robert White, a Cambridge tenant said. Landords are, in effects exempt from inflation, giving them the same status in our community as priests," White added.

Owners cannot afford to make energy-conserving improvements without rent increases, Paul Watkins, a Cambridge landlord, said, explaining, "The rent board does not approve rent increases until after increased expenses are incurred, so it's landlords who bear the burden of inflation."

City Councilor David Sullivan, chairman of the council's committee on rent control, reminded the board of its purpose--to protect tenants from arbitrarily high rents and unlawful eviction, and to prevent the removal of rental property from the market.

Sullivan praised the board's proposal to link energy conservation with rent increases. Under the board's plan, landlords would only be able to pass on the costs of a limited amount of fuel to tenants, thus encouraging landlords to keep energy consumption at or below this level. Sullivan asked the board to make the proposed plan retroactive for the current heating season.

The board's energy conservation plan will be difficult to regulate, especially considering the backlog of cases now facing the board, Cambridge tenant David Travers said, adding that the 1979 rent control hearings are just now being completed.