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Con: Private businesses should be protected from city oversight

By Jessica Rodrigo
July 13, 2014 at 2:13 a.m.

Victoria resident Frances Sanchez, 66, sits in her rented apartment of nine years at Casa Del Rio Apartments. Sanchez has to move out by November because the complex has been sold to the University of Houston-Victoria.

Getting price gouged?

The reality for Texas is cities cannot impose a rent control, said David Mintz, spokesperson with the Texas Apartment Association. The only kind of rent control that can be imposed is following a natural disaster to prevent price gouging, he said.

Property owners cannot discriminate under fair housing law on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status. For more information regarding Texas laws on renting practices, visit taa.org.

City government is essential to a growing community.

It oversees waste management, public services, roads and more, but it does not interfere with private business, Victoria Mayor Paul Polasek said.

Polasek said the responsibility to set fair housing rates lays on the shoulders of the private entities.

"We have specific duties we need to focus on with respect to public infrastructure and basic services," he said.

Rental services and apartments operate in the private sector, and he said it should stay that way.

Time spent by city officials should be spent on projects that benefit the city as a whole.

"We don't need to interfere in the marketplace in that regard," Polasek said.

Summit Rentals oversees apartment and single-family rental units in Victoria. Pam O'Hara, assistant property manager, said the rental prices set are not the city's business.

"Government should not interfere with private business and ownership," she said. "That's not up to the city to decide what they should and shouldn't charge for their homes."

The property owners are responsible for setting the rates for their units based on what their taxes and insurance rates are.

If the taxes are increased, she said, chances are the rent rates will rise, too.

"You have to do what's best for financial reasons," O'Hara said.

Property owners have more to consider when setting prices than renters might think, she said.

Many owners who operate through Summit Rentals have raised their rates without making improvements because of the increase in their property values. When the values go up, she said, most owners will offset the expense by raising the rent for their tenants.

"I don't believe in price gouging," she said. "Just because you can get it doesn't mean that it's right. There shouldn't be price gouging, but it's not up to the city."

If there is something illegal going on, Polasek said, the courts are available for that.

He doesn't believe it to be the responsibility of the city to step in if there is a dispute between a tenant and a property owner.

In most cases O'Hara has seen, the increases have ranged between $25 to $50 per month. Anything more than $100 is too much, she said.

"I tell them they don't have to pay the rent. You can move," O'Hara said. "Don't put yourself in that position. If you don't like it, you can move."

The activity from the Eagle Ford Shale isn't the reason for the increase in rental rates, either, she said.

"Rental rates have always been higher than comparable towns our size," O'Hara said.

However, O'Hara has seen property rates increased to reach market rent - the rate at which comparable units are set. This not only makes it fair for all tenants involved, but it also is a normal practice in the rental market.

"They think they're getting price gouged, and that's not necessarily the case," O'Hara said of renters. "It's just that the market has gone up."

Polasek said the new apartments will affect the rent rates because of the extra units.

"With all the new apartments coming online, that will affect rent prices," he said. "The market will correct itself as it continues."

O'Hara expects the market to adjust in a few years. Once the rental market becomes saturated, the rates will level, she said.

"At some point, the rates are going to come down," she said.

Pro/Con: Should Victoria take steps to provide affordable housing?

Pro: Officials could protect renters from extreme rate hikes

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