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To protect vulnerable renters, Palo Alto may ban residential evictions during pandemic

Effects of COVID-19 may impact tenants' ability to pay, city attorney says

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Palo Alto plans to adopt on Monday an emergency moratorium on residential evictions — a move that city leaders hope will help residents who have been laid off and are struggling to pay rent as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

With the moratorium, the City Council is looking to follow the lead of San Jose and San Francisco, each of which has recently prohibited residential evictions. San Francisco Mayor London Breed also had announced on Tuesday a moratorium on evictions for small- and medium-sized commercial tenants, a measure that San Jose is also preparing to adopt.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has already signed an executive order stating that local laws to prohibit eviction of residential and commercial tenants due to nonpayment of rent related to COVID-19 will not be pre-empted by state law over the course of the emergency.

While Palo Alto's urgency ordinance pertains only to residential evictions, a report from the office of City Attorney Molly Stump, asks the council to consider following the leads of San Francisco and San Jose and potentially adopting a ban on commercial evictions.

The report from Stump's office cited the substantial economic damage that the coronavirus crisis is causing to the city and the region. As businesses close or reduce hours to comply with orders from public-health officials, workers will "suffer significant wage loss due to layoffs or reduced work hours," the report states. Others will lose income either because they are sick with COVID-19, are caring for someone who is sick, are self-quarantining or are caring for children as schools are closed.

"Many tenants have experienced sudden income loss, and more severe income impacts are anticipated in the coming weeks. The loss of wages caused by the effects of COVID-19 may impact tenants' ability to pay rent, leaving them vulnerable to eviction," the report states.

Talk to us: If you are someone who would benefit from this eviction moratorium, we'd like to hear from you. Email editor@paweekly.com.

Housing activists and tenant advocates have urged the city to move ahead with the moratorium on evictions. Mitch Mankin, policy and advocacy associate at SV@Home, a nonprofit that supports affordable housing, urged the council to take action to protect the city's most vulnerable residents.

"We know that everyone is being impacted by this public health crisis and that the most vulnerable members of our community, especially those who are housing insecure or experiencing homelessness, are being hit the hardest," Mankin wrote.

Annette Kirkham, senior attorney at Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, provided a draft ordinance for the council to adopt and argued in a letter that the city should immediately move ahead with an urgency law prohibiting landlords from filing nonpayment-of-rent evictions through the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

The letter, which Kirkham wrote on behalf of her organization as well as Sacred Heart Community Service and Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, also urges the city not to perform any "homeless encampment sweeps and abatements" during this time.

"We are in an unprecedented public health crisis, and those who are low-income, and are already highly rent-burdened are most at risk during this crisis," Kirkham wrote. "There are many different ways renters' incomes will likely be impacted, including illness, illness of a family member, work closures due to lost customers or governmental restrictions on public activities, absences from work due to school closures, and lost clients or work for those who are self-employed or work in the 'gig' economy for companies such as Uber or Doordash."

Palo Alto resident Annette Isaacson made a similar plea.

"Many house cleaners in Palo Alto are being laid off due to the coronavirus, and they are just the tip of the iceberg," Isaacson wrote. "Many folks have less than $400 in savings. They will not be able to pay their rent."

Under the proposed ordinance that the council will consider Monday, the moratorium would remain in effect for the duration of the local public health emergency proclaimed by the county. While the March 16 order is set to expire on April 7, Newsom had indicated recently that the public-health emergency will likely stretch for months.

To qualify for the ordinance's protections, tenants would be required to document the income losses they have suffered because of COVID-19 and provide them to their landlords. Tenants also would be responsible for payment of rent once they are able to pay or after the end of the public health emergency.

The ordinance also gives residents 120 days from the end of the state of emergency to make full payment of the back rent, according to the reports.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Comments

21 people like this
Posted by wondering
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2020 at 3:11 pm

Will the CC be compensating landlords for the unpaid rent so that they can make their mortgage and property tax payments?


7 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2020 at 11:51 am

Vrent (Vittoria Management) aka Sal and Alex Giovanotto owns half the apartments in Palo Alto. They are billionaires with lots of power and leverage with the city given TDRs and other favors. Vrent (check their yelp reviews) also treats tenants terribly. I hope there are protections for renters but am not counting on that given the politics involved.


6 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2020 at 1:53 pm

The city should be doing it's part. Suspend all taxes, utility charges and fees until this crisis is over.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2020 at 2:25 pm

Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North

>> Vrent (Vittoria Management) aka Sal and Alex Giovanotto owns half the apartments in Palo Alto.

Own the property, or, "just" manage the property? I thought this was a property management company. Where does one go for information about this?


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 24, 2020 at 2:28 pm

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Bussiness owner and resident
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 24, 2020 at 2:43 pm

For property owners the keyword now is FORBEARANCE, so if you are a property owner and have mortgages to pay, call your financial company and start this process now, as it is highly probable that many tenants will request RENT HOLIDAYS in the next four months.

As a reference for the coming timeline to expect: The IRS has extended the Tax date by four months and is giving three months to pay tax debts. This should be considered a good reference for what is coming up and adapt.

The reality is that an empty rental space represents zero income. if you are expecting that that place will be rented in 2~3 months, good luck with that... so if you push your tenant to get out, you need to consider how many months/years of rent you are going to need to recover that gap.

Also, the financial instability we are experiencing plus the new lower interest rates, are giving property owners very low chances to increase rents which probably will be limited to less than 5.5%.

On top: It has been already an exodus from CA as making business here is really more challenging than the other 49 states. So I feel there is a very low chance that people will rush to came here and paid for some ridiculous askings made by some new "property companies" overselling "Palo Alto" while promising unstainable high ROI to the property owners they represent.

On a more sinister side: I saw what happened in Oakland where a few days ago, where it appears that a very angry tenant who lost all hope, allegedly arson the property he was renting after felt victimized by years of presumed harassment by the "rich landlord". So it is time to be smart, accept the new reality, start counting our losses, be supper efficient and work together; landlords and tenants, to understand the new reality and our mutual needs, in an open honest communication channel to support the long term and rebuild our economy.


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2020 at 3:16 pm

Posted by Bussiness owner and resident, a resident of Mayfield

>> For property owners the keyword now is FORBEARANCE, so if you are a property owner and have mortgages to pay, call your financial company and start this process now, as it is highly probable that many tenants will request RENT HOLIDAYS in the next four months.

Great advice. But, I'm also looking for a systematic, level-playing-field way of approaching these things. I suggest that City Hall look at evictions, rent relief and rent control systematically. New rules regarding evictions, forbearance, and rent control should only apply to entities who own and/or manage 10% or more of the total rental market. Small holders should operate under a different set of rules.


1 person likes this
Posted by Bussiness owner and resident
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 25, 2020 at 11:52 pm

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Own the property, or, "just" manage the property? I thought this was a property management company.

*A coment about "Property Management Companies":*
I meet a property owner who worked very hard during more than 30 years to built several Palo Alto apartment buildings; he passed away two years ago at the age of 91, but before he died, he was seduced by one of those "property management companies," who after he passed away produced an incredible level of disruption on hundreds of tenants; This "property management company" is now just waiting for his widow to die (92 Y/O now) to take over the 100+ Million dollars on properties. With zero business acumen to run a property or building a community, that company acted 99% of the time as "broker" staging the properties to make them look "nice" while harassing hundreds of tenants to make them leave and rent the apartments as a "fake condominiums".

Agree. Palo Alto city should take this opportunity to evaluate new ordinances and aproaches to protect tenants and property owners from those fake property management companies. The last city ordinance came just on time for all those hundreds of tenants who were afraid of the outrageous low business ethics of such "fake property management companies".


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 25, 2020 at 11:55 pm

Posted by wondering
a resident of Barron Park

>> Will the CC be compensating landlords for the unpaid rent so that they can make their mortgage and property tax payments?

You mean the CCP? (as a Chinesse Comunist Party)


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