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As City Council advances renter protection laws, landlords demand a voice

Proposals to create anti-gouging policy, expand eviction protections move forward

The Webster Wood apartments located at 941 Webster St. in Palo Alto. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Seeking to protect low-income renters from displacement, a divided Palo Alto City Council moved on Monday to craft new laws that would restrict evictions and prevent sharp rent increases.

The proposed ordinances, which will be crafted in the coming months before returning to the council for approval, are part of a larger suite of initiatives that the city is exploring to help renters, who make up about 46% of the city's population. Other policies that the council supported Monday include creating a survey of rental properties throughout the city, capping how much landlords can charge for security deposits and expanding relocation assistance for residents who have to move because their building is being demolished or undergoing major renovations. The relocation ordinance would only apply to buildings with 10 or more dwellings.

Despite some sharp disagreements on particular policies, the Monday discussion saw increasing consensus among council members on a topic that has divided them for years. Past efforts to even explore, much less adopt, limits on rent increases were rejected by the council in 2017 and 2018. While Mayor Tom DuBois and council member Lydia Kou had championed expanding renter protections, the council's majority has been reluctant to do so out of concern that the new laws would hurt landlords and discourage new residential construction.

While council member Greg Tanaka, who made that point in the past, voted against all of the policies on the table, this time he was in the minority. Most of the policies advanced with a 6-1 vote, with Tanaka dissenting. The policies relating to anti-gouging and eviction protection proved to be more contentious, with the council voting 4-3 to advance them, with council members Alison Cormack, Eric Filseth and Tanaka all dissenting.

One of the city's top priorities will be the launch of a renter survey, an annual register that will track all rental properties and include information such as rental rates, unit sizes, rent increase and evictions. Both the Planning and Transportation Commission and the Human Relations Commission had recommended that the city move ahead with the survey as a top priority when they reviewed the package of reforms earlier this year.

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"There's a lot of work to be done there, but I agree that it's foundational and it will move our whole community from strong positions informed by personal experience and beliefs to a place where we'll be able to make better decisions," Cormack said of the proposed survey.

The council also agreed to advocate for a "right to counsel" policy at the county level in which tenants would be provided with legal assistance during evictions and to consider a "fair chance" ordinance that would restrict the landlord's ability to inquire about a prospective tenant's criminal record. In the coming months, the council's Policy and Services Committee will further evaluate a fair-chance policy, help craft the renter survey and work on the anti-gouging policy, which would then return to the council for approval.

Much like past efforts to boost renter protections, the council's current drive faces steep opposition from landlords, with hundreds emailing the council over the past month or speaking out in recent hearings to register their concerns. Many had argued that the new laws are unnecessary because of Assembly Bill 1482, a 2019 bill that caps rent increase at 5% plus the rate of inflation and that prohibits evictions without just cause. The legislation explicitly excludes, however, certain types of properties that the local law would cover: namely, multiunit buildings that were constructed within the past 15 years.

At the same time, Palo Alto's proposed ordinance would not apply to renters who live in duplexes where the other dwelling is not owner-occupied; to single-family homes that aren't owned by corporations; and to tenants that had occupied their dwellings for less than a year. These exceptions were included in the new proposal at the behest of Vice Mayor Pat Burt.

In developing its proposal, the council agreed that the new policies should focus primarily on low-income renters who are "cost burdened" when it comes to paying rent, which means that they spend more than 30% of the household's gross income on rent. The problem is particularly acute for those in lower income brackets, with about 73.4% of those making less than $75,000 in income considered rent-burdened, according to American Community Survey data.

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A report from Planning and Development Services notes that a "significant percentage of Palo Alto lower-income households are rent-burdened."

"They are more likely to have to choose between paying rent over food or medical needs. When tenants consistently make these choices, the community suffers," the report states.

Some council members, most notably Tanaka and Filseth, suggested that making the law too broad would constitute an overreach by City Hall. Filseth noted that many renters in Palo Alto make more than $150,000 in annual income and don't need assistance from the city. The council, he suggested, should focus only on those who are at risk of displacement if they get hit with a steep rent increase or an eviction notice.

"I think most people in Palo Alto don't want City Hall to be an omnibus regulator of renting in Palo Alto, but I think they do want us to provide a safety net so that people who don't have options don't find themselves in really severe circumstances if we can possibly avoid it," Filseth said.

Council member Greer Stone argued for stronger renter-protection policies, including stricter limits on security deposits than his colleagues were willing to support. After some negotiation, the council agreed that its new policy on security deposits should apply only to unfurnished dwellings and that it should not exceed 150% of the monthly rent.

Stone, who is himself a renter, predicted that the task of protecting tenants from steep rent increases will only become more crucial in the months ahead.

"As we emerge from this pandemic, we're going to see … rents continue to go up and up and up," Stone said.

Stone strongly supported the effort to expand the criteria for tenants eligible for relocation assistance. Under current law, only tenants in buildings with 50 or more dwellings are eligible for relocation assistance. The new ordinance would apply the policy to all buildings with 10 or more dwellings, which would cover about 45% of the city's rental housing stock. Currently, the level of assistance ranges from $7,000 for studios to $17,000 for apartments with three or more bedrooms.

While the effort is aimed at helping tenants, the council also agreed that the city needs to do far more outreach to local landlords before the new policies are finalized. Many landlords had submitted letters to the council over the past months complaining about the city's failure to involve them in the process.

"It's clear these programs lack sufficient analysis and stakeholder engagement," realtor Nancy Kouchekey, a local property manager and real estate agent, wrote to the council. "It's unclear what defined problem the city of Palo Alto aims to solve. And, recognizing that more than half of the city's renters make over $100,000 per year, there is no guarantee that any of the policy recommendations would help those families most in need of housing assistance."

Others, however, suggested that the proposed reforms are urgently needed. Mohit Mookim, who has lived, worked and studied at Stanford University for the past seven years, urged the council to move ahead with expanding renter protections. The rental survey, he wrote, should be just the start of the city's effort.

"Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that increased the precarity of housing, the Bay Area suffered from a significant housing crisis with insufficient units, lack of access to affordable housing, looming evictions, and landlord harassment," Mookim wrote. "Especially after the end of renter protections like the eviction moratorium, we are hearing story after story of renters facing eviction and suffering under the overwhelming weight of high housing costs."

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As City Council advances renter protection laws, landlords demand a voice

Proposals to create anti-gouging policy, expand eviction protections move forward

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Nov 30, 2021, 1:04 pm

Seeking to protect low-income renters from displacement, a divided Palo Alto City Council moved on Monday to craft new laws that would restrict evictions and prevent sharp rent increases.

The proposed ordinances, which will be crafted in the coming months before returning to the council for approval, are part of a larger suite of initiatives that the city is exploring to help renters, who make up about 46% of the city's population. Other policies that the council supported Monday include creating a survey of rental properties throughout the city, capping how much landlords can charge for security deposits and expanding relocation assistance for residents who have to move because their building is being demolished or undergoing major renovations. The relocation ordinance would only apply to buildings with 10 or more dwellings.

Despite some sharp disagreements on particular policies, the Monday discussion saw increasing consensus among council members on a topic that has divided them for years. Past efforts to even explore, much less adopt, limits on rent increases were rejected by the council in 2017 and 2018. While Mayor Tom DuBois and council member Lydia Kou had championed expanding renter protections, the council's majority has been reluctant to do so out of concern that the new laws would hurt landlords and discourage new residential construction.

While council member Greg Tanaka, who made that point in the past, voted against all of the policies on the table, this time he was in the minority. Most of the policies advanced with a 6-1 vote, with Tanaka dissenting. The policies relating to anti-gouging and eviction protection proved to be more contentious, with the council voting 4-3 to advance them, with council members Alison Cormack, Eric Filseth and Tanaka all dissenting.

One of the city's top priorities will be the launch of a renter survey, an annual register that will track all rental properties and include information such as rental rates, unit sizes, rent increase and evictions. Both the Planning and Transportation Commission and the Human Relations Commission had recommended that the city move ahead with the survey as a top priority when they reviewed the package of reforms earlier this year.

"There's a lot of work to be done there, but I agree that it's foundational and it will move our whole community from strong positions informed by personal experience and beliefs to a place where we'll be able to make better decisions," Cormack said of the proposed survey.

The council also agreed to advocate for a "right to counsel" policy at the county level in which tenants would be provided with legal assistance during evictions and to consider a "fair chance" ordinance that would restrict the landlord's ability to inquire about a prospective tenant's criminal record. In the coming months, the council's Policy and Services Committee will further evaluate a fair-chance policy, help craft the renter survey and work on the anti-gouging policy, which would then return to the council for approval.

Much like past efforts to boost renter protections, the council's current drive faces steep opposition from landlords, with hundreds emailing the council over the past month or speaking out in recent hearings to register their concerns. Many had argued that the new laws are unnecessary because of Assembly Bill 1482, a 2019 bill that caps rent increase at 5% plus the rate of inflation and that prohibits evictions without just cause. The legislation explicitly excludes, however, certain types of properties that the local law would cover: namely, multiunit buildings that were constructed within the past 15 years.

At the same time, Palo Alto's proposed ordinance would not apply to renters who live in duplexes where the other dwelling is not owner-occupied; to single-family homes that aren't owned by corporations; and to tenants that had occupied their dwellings for less than a year. These exceptions were included in the new proposal at the behest of Vice Mayor Pat Burt.

In developing its proposal, the council agreed that the new policies should focus primarily on low-income renters who are "cost burdened" when it comes to paying rent, which means that they spend more than 30% of the household's gross income on rent. The problem is particularly acute for those in lower income brackets, with about 73.4% of those making less than $75,000 in income considered rent-burdened, according to American Community Survey data.

A report from Planning and Development Services notes that a "significant percentage of Palo Alto lower-income households are rent-burdened."

"They are more likely to have to choose between paying rent over food or medical needs. When tenants consistently make these choices, the community suffers," the report states.

Some council members, most notably Tanaka and Filseth, suggested that making the law too broad would constitute an overreach by City Hall. Filseth noted that many renters in Palo Alto make more than $150,000 in annual income and don't need assistance from the city. The council, he suggested, should focus only on those who are at risk of displacement if they get hit with a steep rent increase or an eviction notice.

"I think most people in Palo Alto don't want City Hall to be an omnibus regulator of renting in Palo Alto, but I think they do want us to provide a safety net so that people who don't have options don't find themselves in really severe circumstances if we can possibly avoid it," Filseth said.

Council member Greer Stone argued for stronger renter-protection policies, including stricter limits on security deposits than his colleagues were willing to support. After some negotiation, the council agreed that its new policy on security deposits should apply only to unfurnished dwellings and that it should not exceed 150% of the monthly rent.

Stone, who is himself a renter, predicted that the task of protecting tenants from steep rent increases will only become more crucial in the months ahead.

"As we emerge from this pandemic, we're going to see … rents continue to go up and up and up," Stone said.

Stone strongly supported the effort to expand the criteria for tenants eligible for relocation assistance. Under current law, only tenants in buildings with 50 or more dwellings are eligible for relocation assistance. The new ordinance would apply the policy to all buildings with 10 or more dwellings, which would cover about 45% of the city's rental housing stock. Currently, the level of assistance ranges from $7,000 for studios to $17,000 for apartments with three or more bedrooms.

While the effort is aimed at helping tenants, the council also agreed that the city needs to do far more outreach to local landlords before the new policies are finalized. Many landlords had submitted letters to the council over the past months complaining about the city's failure to involve them in the process.

"It's clear these programs lack sufficient analysis and stakeholder engagement," realtor Nancy Kouchekey, a local property manager and real estate agent, wrote to the council. "It's unclear what defined problem the city of Palo Alto aims to solve. And, recognizing that more than half of the city's renters make over $100,000 per year, there is no guarantee that any of the policy recommendations would help those families most in need of housing assistance."

Others, however, suggested that the proposed reforms are urgently needed. Mohit Mookim, who has lived, worked and studied at Stanford University for the past seven years, urged the council to move ahead with expanding renter protections. The rental survey, he wrote, should be just the start of the city's effort.

"Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that increased the precarity of housing, the Bay Area suffered from a significant housing crisis with insufficient units, lack of access to affordable housing, looming evictions, and landlord harassment," Mookim wrote. "Especially after the end of renter protections like the eviction moratorium, we are hearing story after story of renters facing eviction and suffering under the overwhelming weight of high housing costs."

Comments

New PaloAltan
Registered user
St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 30, 2021 at 3:55 pm
New PaloAltan, St. Claire Gardens
Registered user
on Nov 30, 2021 at 3:55 pm

Why would anybody be FOR gouging tenants? Besides landlords, of course. As the population ages and the balance of renters gets more weighted to the elderly instead of the young, higher rents hurts everyone. As a late teen, I could afford to rent an apartment of my own without any roommates. Now, with rents prohibitively high, NO ONE can afford to rent alone. If I had to sacrifice my privacy as a young twenty something (and my safety) I'm not sure I'd have stayed on this side of sane. Now that I'm old, if I had to get a roommate? I honestly think I would rather live in my car. For the aforementioned reasons -- privacy and safety. I have no family members left and even if I did, there's a REASON why I chose to get my own apartment at 18. My family took all the fun out of "dysFUNction" and made it into something more like a horror movie. Now, an 18 year old without choices of where they would LIKE to live vs where they HAVE to live due to finances will likely do desperate things. Sure, I had to work 3 jobs but at 18 I came home to my own place where I didn't have to worry about a roommate having sex on my couch when I walked in, or their friends eating all of my food, or somebody stealing my change jar. Now, as an old person, I was on the brink of financial instability this article talks about and I was told I should get a roommate. OVER MY DEAD BODY! I didn't work my entire life to end up like a lot of 18 year olds end up now. I'm not crying over landlords potentially NOT being able to gouge tenants to death. I am totally for fair rent, AND RENT CONTROL. And I'm against eviction without cause. So... I guess nobody will ever want to rent to me!


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2021 at 7:42 am
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2021 at 7:42 am

Speaking as someone who is a landlord in another city with strong renter protections, there has been ample opportunity for involvement in this matter by rental property owners. Many showed up and spoke at earlier meetings. Enough already.

The beefing up of eviction protection was vital because it helps keep a good tenant in their housing, not just help once they lose it. It doesn’t apply to evictions for a cause, only to those for no cause. Why would we want to keep allowing that - it’s just wrong.

These protections are common sense and don’t interfere with reasonable rental practices.


Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 1, 2021 at 8:25 am
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2021 at 8:25 am

Rent control is the government taking the property of one American and giving it to another, without compensation. Tenants who refuse to pay fair market rent simply want the government to subsidize them using someone else's hard earned property.

Rent control, restrictions on security deposits, eviction restrictions, will all lead to less investment in housing.

Check the Stanford rent control study.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2021 at 10:46 am
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2021 at 10:46 am

Long-time landlords are beneficiaries of Prop 13, and its tax savings. They don't pass these savings on to their tenants. They enjoy the profits that follow those tax savings as they deliver new families to the school district without the revenue contribution that the sale of a home might bring.

That said, more rental housing is needed. There are some good landlords who treat people with dignity and respect--who value good tenants and charge reasonable rental rates. It's unfortunate that some people will take advantage of others, but for some, greed is a driving force in life.

I watched the Council session. It seemed to me they tried hard to strike a balance that will be fair and minimize negative impacts on good tenants and good landlords.

To greedy landlords...Please consider that your behavior necessitated this action. Had you been more self-restrained and treated tenants with decency, no one would have asked for these changes. You brought this on yourselves.

I'm fortunate to own a home, but I have many friends who are renters. I have been appalled at the abusive treatment and dangerous neglect of property that many of their landlords rain on them. These landlords should be ashamed. It seems to me, Council is doing the right thing.


Mark
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Dec 1, 2021 at 11:32 am
Mark, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2021 at 11:32 am

We own 104 units. It works like this—there is no big money in the actual income from rents (operating income) less in net income. Market should set rates. There is money in the property appreciation that we refinance and use to take risk on other investments. Tenants don’t take that risk. We do. Tenants also don’t install capital improvements like roofs. Water heaters. Asphalt—things invisible to them. There is a $500 per month rent burden to a tenant they will pay over market to keep them from moving. That’s it. Charge more than that they leave then we have a turnover. Turnovers are where we LOSE money. We want GOOD tenants to STAY because it makes more-or we lose more if they leave—paint, flooring, time value of non rentable units. We want good tenants to stay. BUT California laws now takeS the ability to get LOUSY tenants out-it’s all —yes even for cause—the ones that good quiet tenants that pay on time are bothered by—yes even for cause—and it’s highly regulated. Try eliciting one. Go to court—I’ve done it.Not fun. No payers drag it out for months until a sheriff unlocks the door on the last day 3 or 4 months later after initial services for non payment—which means 5 months of non rent. We walk in to a destroyed unit. Yes even graffitis and a sledge hammered shower enclosure—it’s a nightmare. Non tenants want to take even more control of out assets. Here’s an idea—saves all the money you have to go out to breakfast and movies and Starbucks for years to save a down payment. Then purchase a duplex like we did 30 years ago and try leveraging up. Spend Thanksgivings and Christmas at a Home Depot buying things to fix up units like we did.don’t take vacations for years. Save everything. Go to good will and shop for everything for years to put money into units so tenants can have new carpet when yours is 30 years old. I wish yo luck. I’ve been on sides. Most people don’t have a clue to how it actually works.


John
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 1, 2021 at 12:40 pm
John, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2021 at 12:40 pm

This article and the comments, save Mark’s, areexactly why I invest outside CA, in states that respect property rights and understand that the best way to control rent costs is by building ample supply.


cmarg
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Dec 1, 2021 at 12:41 pm
cmarg, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2021 at 12:41 pm

I hope that there if any changes are made for rent control for those less fortunate that there the process includes finding out the real worth of those wanting low-income housing. I recall stories of people just saying they wanted to stay there with low rents because they felt they deserved it even though it was a larger than needed space and much less than they could afford. There are those few bad apples that spoil the bunch. Just please make sure there is a process to check, like tax returns. Also, I know of a very wealthy family that had their mom live in a low income housing unit. Why, I will never know. Seems unconscionable.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2021 at 1:02 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2021 at 1:02 pm

PA landlords are foolish, using every loophole in their playbook to not accept Section 8 guaranteed rent payments. The good in accepting 1) Rent can be raised reasonably 2) The county incentivize landlords w $2K cash bonus to accept S8 Voucher renter 3) S8 pays fair market rents, even in a Palo Alto market. 4) Low turn-over. I am an excellent tenant, abide by rules and take premium care of the homes I rent. My family of three young children, is currently stuck in cycle of systemic poverty in Palo Alto because PA landlords refuse to accept our voucher so we can move from 650 square feet to 900 square feet. Landlords don’t return calls or make or place other unreadable burdens on S8 applicants that automatically deny us a chance to rise out of poverty. Please. Give hardworking families a chance who because of life circumstance are poor yet worthy, contributing, active, involved citizens of the Palo Alto community. It’s heartbreaking . The COVID induced economy and home market is so volatile, it’s is a game of Jinga: pull any one stick out — housing, job or car, and a family is now on the streets ! How much unhoused dwelling on our streets costing our communities?! How much is personal greed over the common good costing our times now?!


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2021 at 1:30 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2021 at 1:30 pm

[Post removed; successive comments by same poster are not permitted.]


Speak your truth
Registered user
Barron Park
on Dec 3, 2021 at 11:04 pm
Speak your truth, Barron Park
Registered user
on Dec 3, 2021 at 11:04 pm

Hello all ,
Such great input .
Just wanted to share - I rent out my house in Germany ???????? and it’s a 5 year lease and fixed rent .
I like the Golden rule . Seems the days of Ozzie and Harriet are gone . I think team work between renter and owner engaging for the common good
Makes the dream work.
This problem is not unlike any other problem under the sun - one might ask oneself serious questions about one’s intentions .
If one cares about the good of the other over greed and about serving others that’s really nice .
Maybe if one has not rented a home or apt / condo / room here over the ..past 20 years — one may have no true idea what it’s really like .
For those who have rented I’m sure they can relate .
I am happy to share that my belief in the property managing company seeing me as a human being was running very low - until that one fine day .
One day I rented from a couple who were fair .
They also maybe didn’t “need “the money —“ SO “much money anyway ??? Maybe ?
COVID 19 hit and rent was paid on time until two months before we moved out. This couple didn’t ask for the rent .
Yep . Rent free for 2 months . The fair deposit / just one months rent - was returned . Powerful good .
I pass it on now also .
I ask myself if I rented my Palo Alto home would I be fair ?
Just because the going rate is say 6k / mo , would I charge it ? If I didn’t really need all that money ? The higher price next door the higher ..and even still higher ..the price will go . Does price increase spread like a rumor or gossip . Is that how we roll ? Am I mistaken to think some pretty creative real estate deals took ( take ) place Gosh . No contingencies - all cash - bidding wars - sight unseen .
I can’t compete in that hunt anymore.
Buying a 3 - 20 million dollar home would be reasonable if I earned alot . But that’s not why the home prices are so high ,right?
Ask a renter -and owner - how has it been ?
There’s no place like home .



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