Renters in East Palo Alto will receive more protections under an ordinance officially passed by the City Council this week.
The ordinance was scheduled to be approved through the council's consent calendar for its May 6 meeting, but council member Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier instead asked to pull the item from the calendar to allow the public to ask to have any portion clarified. No one spoke, she said. Council then officially approved the ordinance.
At an April 1 council meeting, more than a dozen residents -- many speaking through a Spanish interpreter -- urged the council to put more protections into place. After hearing much testimony, the council swiftly voted to back the ordinance.
The law, which has been in the works since 2011, is in response to increasing concern in East Palo Alto over a decline in affordable housing and an imbalance between tenants and landlords. The drafting of the ordinance pitted the city's largest landlord, Equity Residential, against Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, representing local tenants, but the two eventually came to consensus over various provisions included in past drafts.
Under the ordinance, tenants have the right to organize, organize meetings and distribute literature without reprisals. Landlords cannot refuse to rent units, evict or discriminate on the basis of age, parenthood, pregnancy or the tenancy of a minor child. Landlords are also prohibited from refusing to rent or discriminating against anyone because they are a student or not a student.
Landlords cannot harass tenants by interrupting or curtailing any utility service or fail to perform repairs and maintenance, to threaten tenants by through threat, fraud intimidation or coercion, or refuse to accept or acknowledge rent payment. They may not threaten to call immigration authorities, except as required by law.
Significantly perhaps for Equity Residential, which owns 1,800 rental units in the Woodlands neighborhood south of University Avenue and has had parking problems that have spilled over into Palo Alto, after June 1, landlords cannot charge for parking. Landlords who want to charge for parking must prove that the parking spaces are in excess of parking required for the site.
If landlords must temporarily remove tenants to repair a unit, the landlord must supply alternative housing and temporary relocation costs, including storage and housing pets, but they cannot charge renters more than they normally pay for rent.
But if temporary relocation exceeds 30 days, landlords can terminate tenancy, and they must pay relocation costs as required if units are demolished or removed.
The ordinance will take effect within 30 days.
City Council also unanimously agreed Tuesday to accept an employee contract with its Management Employees Association, which is on par with an agreement the city accepted on April 22 with the Service Employees International Union.
The council also decided to delay a vote on other housing issues: second unit and garage conversions. It expects to vote on the issues at its May 20 meeting.