Landlords push back against proposed rental registry | September 16, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 16, 2022

Landlords push back against proposed rental registry

Council's Policy & Services Committee advances effort to keep track of evictions, rent hikes

by Gennady Sheyner

Protections for residential tenants have long been a hot topic in Palo Alto, where 46% of the residents are renters and where sky-high rents have contributed to what city leaders often refer to as a housing emergency.

But while the City Council agreed in February to expand some programs for renters, including one that makes more tenants eligible for relocation assistance, its members have struggled to reach consensus on more aggressive measures such as rental stabilization, which limits how much landlords can increase rent in a given year.

Council members did, however, agree at that time that the best way to get to decisions on rent stabilization and other potentially divisive topics would be to launch a rental registry that would track rental properties and keep track of evictions, rents, rent increases and other pertinent data.

On Tuesday, the city took its first step toward that endeavor when the council's Policy and Services Committee discussed the parameters of the new program and agreed by a 2-1 vote to apply it to every rental property, including single-family homes and accessory dwelling units. The committee reached the decision despite arguments by its dissenting member, Council member Greg Tanaka, and some landlords that such a registry would prove too burdensome for landlords.

Committee Chair Greer Stone, himself a renter, made a case for the new registry by pointing at his personal experience. Earlier this year, numerous residents from his Midtown apartment building were evicted by the property owner, Spieker Companies. Stone said that had the registry existed at the time, the city would have been aware of the eviction proceedings and it may have acted quicker to assist the tenants.

"By the time the city was able to kind of react to it, so many tenants had been removed and many of them appeared to be either illegally removed or in a way that they weren't able to get some services," Stone said.

The creation of the registry program was also endorsed by the Planning and Transportation Commission, which reviewed a suite of policies on tenant protections earlier this year and named the registry as a top priority. The Tuesday discussion was the first in a series of public hearings that the council committee is scheduled to have on the program before it moves to the City Council for approval. Staff from the Department of Planning and Development Services hope to have the registry in place by the end of 2023.

Palo Alto is hardly the only city to seek more information about its renters. East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Berkeley, Alameda and San Francisco are among the cities in the region that already have rental survey programs, while Oakland is preparing to launch one this year, according to data compiled by [email protected], a nonprofit that advocates for more housing.

The proposed registry has seen some modification since it was first proposed. Initially focused on cost-burdened residents in apartment buildings, the program has been expanded to also include accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and single-family homes that are being rented out. Planning Director Jonathan Lait said the additional components were included to help "inform other policy discussions that would go above and beyond the cost-burdened groups." This would include information on how accessory dwelling units are being used and whether these dwellings could potentially qualify as "affordable housing" in the context of regional housing mandates.

"We have a pretty good record of multi-family buildings that we can find out pretty easily, but there's probably a number of ADUs we don't know about," Lait said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Palo Alto had about 11,423 rental units in 2020. Of those about 20.9% are located in properties with 50 or more units and 25.3% are single-family homes. The remainder are located in smaller apartment buildings, duplexes, triplexes, attachments to homes and mobile homes.

Not everyone, however, is thrilled about the new program. Anil Babar, senior vice president of local public affairs for the California Apartment Association, argued at Tuesday's meeting that the new registry would be burdensome and costly to administer and that it would violate the privacy of tenants and landlords.

"This rent data is very competitive information, and neighboring buildings would love to know what the neighboring rents are for in-place tenants given this tight and competitive rental market," Babar said.

Marcus Wood, property manager at Hohbach Property, also opposed the program and suggested that the city doesn't know what problem it's trying to solve.

"Do we think landlords are going to be evil and gouge people? I don't think it's in any landlord's interests. They want to keep tenants and they want to collect rent," Wood said.

Tanaka concurred with the critics and argued that the new survey program would create "rigorous" compliance issues that would require landlords to hire staff to fulfill the requirements and to pass down the costs of the compliance work to tenants. Some landlords, he suggested, may opt to simply stop renting out their rooms or apartments because of the survey requirements.

"I didn't think we'd do something so heavy-handed," Tanaka said.

But Stone and Council member Alison Cormack both voted to support the program, with Cormack also suggesting that planning staff return with suggestions about how the registry data will be used.

"We don't know what we don't know," Cormack said. "And I think we really have to move from personal experiences to understanding what is happening more broadly in the community. And I think this is one way that we're going to do this."

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]

Comments

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 15, 2022 at 10:32 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

Will this survey also categorize short-term rentals like AirBnBs? There's some evidence that such rentals are depleting listings from the more traditional longer-term rental market.


Posted by Dennis Pickford
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2022 at 10:49 am

Dennis Pickford is a registered user.

This measure is a step in the right direction as it will require additional documentation pertaining to any Unlawful Detainer petitions (eviction proceedings) filed by landlords against tenants.

It will also force eviction attorneys to scrutinize all of the facts prior to accepting an eviction case on behalf of a landlord.

As a former evictee with legitimate grounds for not leaving the premise, it became clearly obvious that the presiding judge favored the landlords in nearly 95% of the cases.


Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2022 at 11:11 am

casey is a registered user.

Of course landlords will push back against a rental registry. Impose another administrative burden with no tangible benefits. If the city believes this information will help tenants, then collect the data from the tenants. Problem solved?


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2022 at 11:13 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I see a lot of problems with this when it comes to defining rental properties by private individuals.

What about adult children living at home?
What about seniors/grandparents/inlaws and other types of 3 generational households.
What about the many ADUs being built and who will live in them, family members, or AirBnB style college lets.
What about a single senior renting out a room in return for light housework or care.
What about those that allow others to use their home address for Palo Alto residency purposes.
What about house shares where the owner shares the house to help pay the mortgage.

All these are valid questions since most of us know where these types of living situations are taking place around town. On top of that, it sounds very like a database of Big Brother.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 15, 2022 at 11:38 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"Council members did, however, agree at that time that the best way to get to decisions on rent stabilization and other potentially divisive topics would be to launch a rental registry that would track rental properties and keep track of evictions, rents, rent increases and other pertinent data."

Didn't we hear much the same thing about creating a Business Registry to track the number of employees, new hires and other pertinent data so the city could administer parking programs, figure out who qualifies for "affordable" housing and, most important, administer a Business Tax?

The city never got the simpler Business Registry up and running. Why should the Renter's Registry be different?


Posted by Jerry
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 15, 2022 at 12:03 pm

Jerry is a registered user.

This is government over-reach at it's finest. And certainly an invasion of privacy.

How will the information in this registry be protected? Who will have access to it?

I agree with the quote from Marcus Wood in the article. What problem is this trying to solve exactly?


Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 15, 2022 at 12:36 pm

Green Gables is a registered user.

The City of Palo Alto was suppose to do this 20 years ago. The landlords were not cooperating then.


Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2022 at 12:44 pm

BP is a registered user.

Agree with Jerry. The city must protect this extremely sensitive data, control access , and ensure data compliance. Because there are multiple data regulations covering tenants and owners eg EU, Canada, the city will have to hire expensive enterprise architect and legal advisors — will be interested to see how much this latest boondoggle costs taxpayers.


Posted by peppered
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 15, 2022 at 12:51 pm

peppered is a registered user.

More and more Palo Alto is turning socialist. What happened to the free market?


Posted by PinkDolphin
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 15, 2022 at 12:52 pm

PinkDolphin is a registered user.

The City website says "City Municipal Code Chapter 9.72, Title 9 requires all landlords to register their rental property with the City of Palo Alto."
Web Link


Posted by Johannes Becker
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2022 at 12:57 pm

Johannes Becker is a registered user.

More condo conversions could resolve this issue as there would be fewer apartment rental issues to dispute.

And the same strategy would be feasible with duplexes and triplexes.

The proposed rental registry would then be smaller and easier to manage.


Posted by Jerry
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 15, 2022 at 1:15 pm

Jerry is a registered user.

@PinkDolphin, yes that's correct. The current code requires rental registration. But I understand that compliance is very low right now. Perhaps because there's no penalty and no way for the City to legally find out which units are being rented, unless it's obvious (apartment buildings).

Which brings up another point. The Staff Report from Tuesday's Council meeting strongly suggests that landlords and/or tenants would have to pay a "cost recovery fee" for the new program, if implemented. So landlands would have to pay a fee to sign up for a program that they receive no benefit whatsoever from? That's completely nuts.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 15, 2022 at 1:24 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Given all the empty storefronts where long-time business tenants have been forced out and the landlords wouldn't lower their rents during the pandemic, I'd like to see businesses included. It wouldn't be too tough to implement; one only has to drive around and see all the empty storefronts that are still sitting empty.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2022 at 2:23 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. This is government overreach at its finest, and it is an invasion of privacy.

Effective immediately, we may/may not own property in a certain section of PA, and we may/may not be renting to family, friends, strangers or my boss who is currently going through his third divorce.

I have shopped at "elitist CVS" somewhere in town. I think.


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 15, 2022 at 3:15 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Bystander, renters are usually defined by the fact that they are bound under the terms of a rental agreement. Relatives and friends who are staying with someone aren't renters unless they have an agreement to the terms signed by both parties.

It's not over-reach and it's not that hard to achieve, as far as building a landlord registry. Everyone who receives rental income has to claim it on their taxes. Seems easier to glean the information from the FTB or IRS than to get landlords to voluntarily take responsibility for what has been in the City code for over a decade. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him voluntarily sign his cash cow up for verification purposes of any kind.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2022 at 3:25 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

It is overreach, and what is reported to the IRS is between the taxpayer and the IRS. Finances are very private, and if you don't think so, you lack boundaries.


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 15, 2022 at 4:03 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Oh Jennifer. My money is not just between me and the FTB and IRS. My bank knows more about me than my doctor does -- without HIPAA guidance. And having had an account or two seized by the IRS in the past, the bank fully cooperates in the endeavor. The IRS seizes it and the bank doesn't give the holder of the account a clue. So don't get me started on the (lack of) sanctity of the IRS.


Posted by Jerry
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 15, 2022 at 4:26 pm

Jerry is a registered user.

MyFeelz: With a few exceptions, tax returns are confidential information at both the federal and state level. Unless you choose to disclose them or there are specific criminal allegations against you, random government agencies can't just go rummaging around in your tax return. If they could, lots of people would be in jail now.


Posted by Reid
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2022 at 4:39 pm

Reid is a registered user.

I'm so glad Greer could share his perspective as a renter. Our council is normally so responsive to homeowner concerns. It's great to hear that the council is going forward with this new data gathering project.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2022 at 5:35 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

I totally dig the idea of an IRS registry. Yes this is a whole country & national home price crisis!!! Probably spearheaded by California 50 years ago. Biden please assign the IRS budget to include reporting a yearly rental registry data!! Kind of like voter registration .

I have never been a homeowner, landlord or even rented out a room to a “roommate”. What however, is taxes is between tax payer and IRS only and kept conf? I don’t think so. HUD and banks , mortgage and reverse lenders, refies, remodels, additions, ADUS, JDU’s, who is a dependent or a college student or relative living in the “home”, if a owner runs a business out of the home, borrows off the equity value, if one keeps a house empty, rent out, or has to pay insurance, or anything that become a tax right off, draws interest, is in a trust, on and on. No as a land/ what you report to the IRS is shared amount many entities. Too our jobs know who and how many are taxed / exempt income is known by HR department My thought. In fact for refinancing, or buying additional properties, a bank comes to assess and then reports to HUD. Where property owners believe what they own is false and misleading. The biz registry failed and so did the parking survey. What mostly I got from listening to meeting was how much it would cost to create a fancy website and maintain it. And when asked by Council to staff and Palo Alto Renters Association how many renters were “roomers” “borders” living in garages, back-yard shacks, etc no one had a clue. Interesting Alta housing was not present or are they supporters. Since two there were two other contracted 501(c)3’s . So when a landlord or propert y owner gets all pissy about “privacy” and controlling the rents charged, I am perplexed and dismayed.

Not only is a land owner controlled the amount of rents they charge, they pass on every wear and tear charge to tenants. “Designer paint, new linoleum, freshly painted, new fridge!” Com’om. These within reason of responsibility cost absorbs by landlords. Why offload the fix it price to the new tenant.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2022 at 5:47 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

BTW @myfeelz I have a bit of a comment crush on (your?) posts. Most likely sometime we’ll disagree. Yet mostly the posts w the handle myfeelz are wise and funny AND well said thought written. ???? algorithm bot? Many here are a
Mymysleeze status quo posts. Hehe.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2022 at 5:47 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

BTW @myfeelz I have a bit of a comment crush on (your?) posts. Most likely sometime we’ll disagree. Yet mostly the posts w the handle myfeelz are wise and funny AND well said thought written. ???? algorithm bot? Many here are a
Mymysleeze status quo posts. Hehe.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 15, 2022 at 5:50 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Jerry, actually tax returns aren't totally confidential because if someone owes taxes they get tons of solicitations from companies to help them settle their debts, fight the IRS and maybe state board. Foreclosures are a matter of public record hence all the auctions of foreclosed properties.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2022 at 5:53 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

@onlinename We whites escaped England started USA territory because of 1) debt’ers prison from grotesque demands from land and tax collecting Barron’s . 300 years later those “debt’ers’ are 160,ooo humans suffering in squalor — en mass on our city curbs, railways, creek beds, under freeways, along highways. Where has debt’ers prison gone? Street side and exposed to climate change, fires, floods, earthquakes and private property owners!!!


Posted by Jerry
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 15, 2022 at 6:01 pm

Jerry is a registered user.

@Online, yes thanks for clarifying this. Debtor situations are an exception to the tax return confidentiality rules.

Also, California courts have occasionally decided that an important public policy can override tax confidentiality.

But I suspect any Palo Alto official who proposed a law that all PA homeowners should surrender their tax returns for this silly registry would be quickly run out of town by at least two gangs:

1) A gang of angry residents with pitchforks.
2) A gang of Mark Zuckerberg's lawyers with notices.

I'm jest kidding about the pitchforks, of course, but not so much about the litigation.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2022 at 6:21 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Tax returns are confidential. There are tax return confidential and disclosure laws. In fact, the IRS can't even tell anyone whether you filed a tax return.

Prior to the enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1976 (Watergate scandal) tax returns and related information weren't protected by law.


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 15, 2022 at 9:01 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

N to the B, if I could create a bot that could conjure up mixed metaphors sandwiched in with malapropisms and a healthy slice of local ignorance ... I would run it for City Council!

I think I struck a nerve with the FTB and IRS angle to reel in scofflaw landlords.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2022 at 9:32 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

According to my husband, our property IS registered. I had no idea this was Municipal Code, (until today) but I'm not surprised. Palo Alto has their own way of doing things.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2022 at 11:33 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

So I lose my low wage Palo Alto job. I work .09 miles from my residence. Yet I am excluded from a parking, biz, and now a renters registry based on my geographies (Stanford owns the soil) the College Terrace Neighborhood Association has discriminated and said no to Mayfield Place.? If said does not recognize 71 units of multi family, poor, disabled?”, senior residents at a “historic” site, who will? Not Stanford, not Palo Alto. So much for Black Lives Matter or Against Asian Hate, or Age and Differenty Abled. The tragic fact: PA & Stanford have “forgotten” us. The gardeners, the pool cleaners, the nannies, the hair cutters. By “providing” excellent extremely low bottom quality housing for residents, the City & Stanford sacrificed a value of home for families to thrive. They (the City) traded land (soccer field)! for life & yes, liberty. 71 families who are totally disconnected, surviving on concrete pad in a concrete & steel structure. Trapped with yearly rent increases. I am so exhausted from the term “it’s Palo Alto”. As I f this escapes decorum or human value or contribution. It’s only Palo Alto when it benefits a fortunate few. It’s deprivation, anxiety, insecurity for the rest. You tell me, show this single mom of three, how a renal “[email protected] will help me and my 3 small children.?I am all ears.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2022 at 11:59 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

@Jennifer women’s rights are property rights! You lost me at “my husband”. Obviously your power and influence lies elsewhere!


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 16, 2022 at 6:46 am

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Imagine being a renter, who gets evicted without cause, trying to collect a relocation fee from a landlord who hasn't registered with the City as a landlord. Who would enforce the payment of the relocation fee? If a landlord evicts a tenant without having done their part according to local law, how would a tenant proceed to "GO" on the monopoly board? If the city has no record of who owns what and how many rental houses or hotels a person is holding, why should a tenant pay anything? Could a tenant go to court to fight an eviction saying "Your Honor, there is no recorded owner in the City's landlord registry. Therefore I don't have to pay any rent." The landlord could whip out a rental agreement as "proof" of ownership, but the Judge could look in the registry and say, "You aren't listed with the City as a landlord. You can't evict someone from a place you won't openly admit you own"


Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2022 at 12:05 am

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

Every renter knows how much they pay each month, when it goes up, and by how much. This isn't really "secret" data. Prospective renters can also find out current rates by asking landlords or managers what they're leasing units for. If the City wants this information, all they have to do is ask the people who know. They could even create a program for tenants to voluntarily and anonymously submit the information; if enough people participate, the data could be highly accurate, and the City would know just how high (and frequent) rent increases are in Palo Alto.


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 17, 2022 at 5:41 am

Annette is a registered user.

What's to stop renters from doing this on their own? This is app-ville. Why wait for the City? I'm guessing some smart kid could develop an app that renters can voluntarily use as their own registry. Kind of like Angie's List and Zagat's, but for renters. The app could have a star-based system for rating property maintenance, landlord attention, lease rates, frequency of evictions and rate hikes, etc. And to offset costs, maybe the app developer allows landlords to pay a hefty fee to list available properties.


Posted by Marie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2022 at 2:08 pm

Marie is a registered user.

As a Palo Alto Landlord, I support the rental registry. Without data, how can good decisions be made? I registered my property as required and see no downside.

I do not understand why the city administration continues to ignore council directions and not enforce both the business registry and the rental registry. How can the city plan without basic knowledge about rentals and businesses, including information as to the number of employees and their commuting patterns?

I urge the city to add a registry for Air bnb and other short-term rentals in order to understand the impact on availability of long term housing. I also urge them to pass an ordinance to legitimize and regulate ST rentals rather than continue to allow non-conforming housing uses as long as they contribute to the transit occupancy tax. Of course, the city has no way of knowing whether the tax proceeds are accurate, as they have no information that would allow them to audit the tax.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 17, 2022 at 2:28 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

All this seems like a no-brainer. Every business with employees and/or contractors has records accessible through HR filings, legal and accounting records and/or a payroll processing service conveniently in digital form. They're not on stone tablets.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2022 at 11:01 am

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

I ask a couple of questions:: Namely. The BIG landholder like Stanford who own in Palo Alto proper and rent to faculty only tenants. Would they be exempt from registering? How about VRents? Or Air B and B’s. How about actually having a city housing department that would facilitate, manage and oversee that residential rentals are in compliance with reasonable and fair housing? trimming the budget of the Development & Building department and have dedicated staff & resource to oversea the rentals ? After all it will not be long when renters will overshadow SFH owners by a few or more percentage points. At this point the city has very little knowledge of the rental market, who and what demographic rent, number of renters in under one roof. As well multi family apartment owners pay taxes, right? Right now landlords big, mid size, small control the rents they charge. I’d like to know how Alta or other HUD supplemented entities feel about a registry. Since PA is mandated to supply 6000 homes in the next decade, it would be in the City’s best interest to be ready, tool up a solid housing department with dedicated staff. Or like everything else will PA plod along pay consultants, private contractors, lean on local low wage working, 501(c)3 like Life Moves, PSentinel, and other advocacy organizations be the go to tool ad hoc city, “housing department” who lobby for lower cost rents, rental registry, rental ordinances, equitable, quality, fair housing for all. Yes it also involves code enforcement, follow-up, fine collection . Expediency and the present chaotic way the Dev Dept oversees the current rental data and rental market, types of rentals in or out of compliance is weak at best. It’s one thing to code a nice registry website, it’s another to oversea the loopholes massive land holders will find to get around the “registry” and not comply. No one wants an eviction on thier rental history record. Even a “no fault” eviction. Currently. Owners hold all the keys.


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 21, 2022 at 1:21 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Native, I have said here under these comments that if anyone *IS* evicted under any of the protected classes by City and State codes, all the renter has to do is make an appearance in Court and let the Judge decide. The Judge should compare the eviction notice against the landlord registry. If the landlord is not listed, the renter wins.

If the landlord IS listed, the Judge could determine the merits of the eviction. If it falls under any of the conditions that are prohibited by City or State mandate, the Judge could order the enforcement of the codes. I believe in Palo Alto this means mandatory mediation before a tenant would have to vacate, and if the tenant is protected, the mediator could report the findings to the Judge.

If the Judge finds that the landlord evicted using any of the means that are NOT allowed under City/State law, the Judge could order the landlord to pay according to the chart in the city code, plus legal costs for the renter. If the landlord refuses to pay the tenant, I think the tenant could take a lien against the property (but don't quote me on this, it's just my best guess as a NON ATTORNEY who is NOT GIVING LEGAL ADVICE to anyone!) -- These comments shall not be construed by anyone as legal advice; check the City Codes yourself and verify with the City how they would proceed in your unique case.


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