East Palo Alto's largest landlord has issued hundreds of three-day notices to pay rent to its tenants in the Woodland Park neighborhood in recent months, sparking concern among city officials about the prospect of residents getting evicted.
The city's Rent Stabilization Board will discuss tonight what Carol Lamont, administrator of the Rent Stabilization Program, called in a report a "notable increase" in such notices issued by Equity Residential. This rising number of these notices, which are sometimes precursors to evictions, is particularly troubling given the turbulent history of the properties, which were previously owned by Page Mill Properties.
Page Mill enraged tenant activists and city officials by spiking rents at the rent-controlled apartments and filing about a dozen lawsuits against the city before defaulting on a loan to Wells Fargo and losing the properties through foreclosure.
Equity, which is owned by Chicago-based magnate Sam Zell, bought the roughly 1,800 units in December 2011 and promised to comply with the city's rent-control laws.
Tonight's discussion, according to Lamont, was organized "because of community concern about increases in eviction actions" and is intended to "gain more clarity about what is happening."
City data shows the number of three-day notices fluctuating wildly on a month-by-month basis. Equity had issued just 14 such notices in January, a number that went up to 85 in February before plunging back to seven in March and rising to 84 in April. Particularly troubling for the city are the number of notices sent out in May and June. The city's chart shows that the company had issued 205 and 330 notices during those two months, respectively. Altogether, the company issued 725 three-day notices.
At the same time, the number of actual evictions has been relatively low, according to city data. One tenant was evicted in April and another one in May. In June, there were no evictions, according to city data.
Marty McKenna, a spokesman for Equity, said the three-day notices are routine warnings that rent hasn't been paid. They are not pre-eviction notices, he said.
"After rent is five days late, you get a notice that you haven't paid rent," McKenna said. "That's all that is. Most of them are just reminders to residents."
The great majority of the residents who receive these notices, he said, "turn around and pay rent."
McKenna said the company had about 45 evictions since it acquired the properties, a number that he called small given the high number of units. He couldn't explain the recent surge in three-day notices.
The report from Lamont also notes that the city issued a notice of noncompliance to Equity because the company failed to provide to the rent board the three-day notices and "unlawful detainer" notices (which a landlord must file with the court before it evicts a tenant) that it has been sending to tenants, as per state law.
The company complied in June by submitting to the rent board the 62 unlawful detainer actions that it had filed with the San Mateo County Superior Court between December 2011 and June 17. But the city is concerned that the company hadn't submitted all of the required documents. Lamont noted in her report that the city has not received any copies of three-day notices that Equity had issued since June 8 or any unlawful-detainer notices filed in court after June 17.
The Rent Stabilization Board will discuss Lamont's report at 7 p.m. tonight in the Council Chambers at City hall, 2415 University Ave.