News

East Palo Alto seeks to bolster tenant protection

City considers way to protect tenants against displacement, discrimination

As East Palo Alto braces for a new landlord to take over more than 1,800 housing units, city officials are considering changing the law to give tenants more protection against discrimination and possible displacement.

The revisions are prompted in large part by the recent sale of the Woodland Park housing portfolio, which was previously owned by Page Mill Properties. The company had significantly raised rents and challenged the city's rent-control laws in court before it defaulted on a $50 million loan in August 2010. Wells Fargo took over the properties and subsequently sold them to Equity Residential, which announced last month that it is planning to close the deal by the end of the year.

With the sale of the 1,812 units pending, the City Council asked staff last month to survey tenant-protection ordinances in other jurisdictions and consider what East Palo Alto can do to strengthen its own laws, Vice Mayor Ruben Abrica said.

"We saw what happened to Page Mill and we don't know yet what will happen to Equity," Abrica said. "It's part of our history to try to, as a city government, try to find ways to protect our vulnerable population."

The revisions could include new provisions banning discrimination against tenants based on age and detailing the landlord's obligations when tenants have to be displaced during remodeling of buildings, he said. Some of the provisions could simply be extensions of existing state and federal laws, he said.

"It doesn't hurt, from what we can tell, to have local law reinforce existing laws," he said. "It makes it clear that retaliation, discrimination, those types of things, will not be allowed."

Equity Residential, which is headed by Chicago-based mogul Sam Zell, prompted protests by tenants and community activists when it announced in September its interest in the properties. Many in the city, including Mayor Carlos Romero, had been hoping that Wells Fargo would split up the portfolio and sell it to numerous buyers.

Equity officials said last month that Equity will respect the city's rent-control laws and will remain committed to preserving rent-control housing in East Palo Alto.

Abrica said the council plans to review the recommendations from the City Attorney's office in the coming months and hold public hearings on the changes before adopting the ordinance revisions.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 27, 2011 at 10:10 am

Sad that the ballot box is once again being used to lower the bar for society. The owners of property being dictated by non-owners on how their assets will be used and developed. As long as society enables, more people will continue to be satisfied with mediocrity.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm

I live in the Woodland Park apartments. And have lived in an Equity-run facility before -- in Oregon.

This company is EVIL. EVIL with all capital letters. They have a monopoly and control prices and make getting into an apartment as difficult as getting into a brand new house. We need t do something about this monster.


Like this comment
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm

What's evil about doing what you please with your own property Anonymous? They should be able to upgrade and charge rental fees for whatever the free market can bear. What's evil in my opinion is someone trying to dictate what other should do with their property. No one owes you a thing. If you want freedom and control, then buy your own property. Just another example of entitlements and the lowering of expectations and standards.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Marrol, You are probably a Realtor. That's exactly the kind of defective thinking that is destroying this country.

The market can't determine prices when there are monopolies. Woodland Park has had a monopoly on prices for a long time, and now Equity does. Rent Control is the only thing preventing them from evicting everybody and charging SF prices.

Property management companies are the embodiment of EVIL. It should be against the law to make money off people's living situations.


Like this comment
Posted by Raymond Lucas
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I live in Woodland Park Apts. and I'm not Anonymous. I have been paying more than the allowable rate for 3 years. I work and do not recieve subsidized housing.

I think it's absolutely essential to protect the growing lower class. There's not enough work right now and this is not the right time for landlords to squeeze the poor even harder for revenue.

If you don't like it, get out of the landlord business.


Like this comment
Posted by Yay Raymond!
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Such wise words from Mr. Lucas. Many areas do not have rent control. Funny, many EPA tenants weren't under rent control prior to Page Mill's debacle. If the lousy Wells Fargo people had done the smart thing with the portfolio, they could've broken up this huge chunk of housing to smaller blocks that were not all subject to rent control. Now there's a choke hold on the west side with 1 huge conglomerate, non-local in origin, owning the whole shebang. No wonder City Council feels a need to gird its loins against these speculators.

Ahhhh, I remember the good ol' days of 5 years ago when we weren't subject to rent control but because our landlord was reasonable, we also didn't have such a need for protection. But hey, now we need protection from scurrilous speculators who are bound to do more creative accounting, just like Page Mill.


Like this comment
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 27, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I am quite sure that the property management groups you vilify could upgrade and develop far more attractive and expensive rental units if they chose. Especially being in such close proximity to Palo Alto and Stanford. Consider yourselves fortunate. And furthermore Mr. Lucas, it is not the responsibility of the government, society, or these property owners to protect the lower class. It is the individual's responsibility to protect themselves. Your way of thinking is precisely what creates and supports these expectations of financial support and entitlement. People work very hard for what they earn and achieve in life. They make many sacrifices to reach those goals. You cannot expect them to carry the burden for everyone else. Again, you want control, then buy your own property.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Marrol,

We can't buy because these EVIL property management companies are stealing our life savings. They are taking money out of our bank accounts and putting it into theirs. They have figured out a way to make rent so high that we are never able to escape the slavery of rent. Add to this the compounding doom of needing huge down payments and great credit to be able to buy a house, and there is NO ESCAPE. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
It damn well is the job of the government to protect ALL PEOPLE against monopolies. Poor or not, nobody should be a slave to a monopolist.

FYI I passed all 12 courses of a real estate brokerage license, and because i have ETHICS could not go into that field. I also have a master's degree (in Economics), and am working full time. My objection is that free market economics DOES NOT WORK when there are EVIL property management companies controlling prices and preventing my ability to accumulate savings to buy.


Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2011 at 4:44 pm

What exactly is "rent control?" Here in Palo Alto, our rent was recently raised while we are still in the middle of our contract. In Texas (and many other states), this wouldn't be legal.

Is this legal in Palo Alto or California?


Like this comment
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 27, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Anonymous, no one has a "right" to live anywhere. That my friend is determined by your ability to make that happen. If not, then you need to consider other options. One option that I object to is having to contribute to you being able to live wherever you wish. Continue to vilify if you wish, but all the finger pointing in the world won't change things. By continuing to blame others does nothing more than sap from the energy you need to get further ahead. It's not the government's fault, or large corporation's fault, or the fault of anyone else.

This country provides many more opportunities than obstacles, for those who choose to seek them. Like most, I started with nothing. I worked hard, made many sacrifices, saved my humble earnings, sought an education, and tried to make wise investments. As a result I was able to buy a home and establish a comfortable life. Never once did I feel I was entitled to or had a right to anything. I didn't complain or expect others to accommodate me. I saw those things as self-created obstacles and wasted energy. All I expect is for people to do the same, and I resent anyone who expects me to contribute to their success or carry their burden. I save those efforts for my family.


Like this comment
Posted by Yay Raymond!
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Marrol's sour grapes fall on mostly deaf ears. Perhaps Marrol isn't cut out to be a landlord in EPA, given his/her constant complaints and inability to do anything about them.

Is Marrol affected by rent control or not? Since he/she is unable to change reality, perhaps selling to is the best option- free market and all of that. Otherwise, he/she isn't following their own advice- EPA tenants, voters and residents don't owe Marrol anything, but it sounds as if Marrol thinks perhaps we do.


Like this comment
Posted by lease in palo alto
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 27, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Nayeli -

Generally, a lease is a contract which (among other things) specifies a specific rent for a specific period of time. Rent cannot be changed by the landlord during the time specified during the lease even if the property is sold, unless both parties agree to change the contract.

This is not dictated by rent control. Areas with rent control have their own rules which sometimes have unintended consequences for both landlords and tenants.


Like this comment
Posted by To Nayeli
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Nayeli-

Here in Calif., whether or not you are under rent control, a lease is a contract which specifies the amount of rent for an exact period of time. Rent cannot be changed by the landlord or tenant during the time specified in this lease- even if the property sells - unless both parties agree to changes.

Cities without rent control have rules which sometimes have unintended consequences for both landlords and tenants. Unfortunately, your living in Palo Alto means you have fewer rights than if you lived under rent control; however, it sounds like your situation isn't legal and you should review your lease and seek assistance post haste.


Like this comment
Posted by SF Rent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2011 at 6:28 am

"Add to this the compounding doom of needing huge down payments and great credit to be able to buy a house,"

Yes, let's again lower the entry point for mortgage qualification to the everyone has a *right* to own a house era, pre-2008. That worked out so nicely the first time around.


Like this comment
Posted by sam
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2011 at 11:50 am



If someone can't afford the rent then they should look for something that they can afford.


Like this comment
Posted by Westsider
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Sam doesn't get it because the article's not about affordable rent. maybe he didn't even read it.

Marrol, it's strange that suddenly you post on these East Palo Alto threads as if you're some expert who knows what's going on. The facts are that you aren't part of the problem because you're not Equity, Wells Fargo or Page Mill and you are posting your opinions and attempting to impose your values on people who you don't know and situations you're not part of. My best guess- just a guess- I can't presume to know you - is that you're a fair landlord, albeit excessively proud of yourself. This isn't about you, so please, let's get back to the subject.


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