Mountain View’s Rental Housing Committee decided last week to phase out the use of Ratio Utility Billing Systems, or RUBS, for calculating utility costs in the city’s rent-controlled housing.

This system, known for its cost-sharing approach and water conservation benefits, approximates utility charges for tenants in master-metered buildings, promoting equitable utility expenses based on factors such as occupancy and apartment size.

The committee on Oct. 23 contended that utility fees paid to landlords should be considered as part of the rent and thus subject to limitations under Mountain View’s rent control law, the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act.

At the meeting, Anil Babbar, senior vice president of local public affairs for the California Apartment Association, presented data showing an increase in water usage in apartment buildings after San Jose eliminated RUBS in 2018. Housing providers echo Babbar’s concerns, helping to underscore the role of RUBS in promoting responsible water usage.

Their apprehension is captured in “Stop Mountain View Waste,” an educational initiative to rally the community against the RHC’s proposal.

Critics argue that eliminating RUBS burdens homeowners with disproportionate conservation responsibilities.

Prior to the committee’s decision, Steve Welter, a longtime property owner in Mountain View, penned an op-ed in the Mountain View Voice arguing the elimination of RUBS could discourage water conservation, citing a “massive increase in water consumption, sometimes as high as an astonishing 43%,” in San Jose after the city adopted a similar measure.

“The rent board is gravely mistaken if they believe this is the way to achieve [housing affordability],” writes Welter in his op-ed. “More predictable utility expenses for renters based on their usage could be achieved by limiting any utility increase a renter might experience by the same amount as those utility rates increase each year.”

Welter also criticized the committee for ignoring the city’s sustainability goals, stating their attitude “borders on climate change denial.”

The Rental Housing Committee’s decision not only affects the billing system but also brings about administrative changes, including the possibility of hiring temporary or permanent staff to oversee the transition. The new regulations, once drafted and approved, will go into effect immediately for new tenancies, while a staggered timeline will be implemented for existing tenancies.