UPDATE: At the East Palo Alto Rent Stabilization Board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 10, Corinne Calfee, an attorney for Woodland Park apartments, announced that property management has temporarily suspended requiring residents to show a government-issued ID.
"We are sorry for any misunderstanding … We should've communicated much earlier and more clearly," she said, adding she spoke on behalf of the property owner.
Board member Francisca Guzman, a Woodland Park resident, said she found the landlord's claim that they were asking for identification to protect tenants to be "a little far reaching. I don't have to provide an ID to vote," she said.
Goolrukh Vakil, another board member, also questioned why the landlord can’t protect tenant privacy without an ID.
"I'm wondering what it is that Woodland Park is worried about," she said.
The apartment complex's management team has scheduled two listening sessions for residents: The first is on Tuesday, Oct. 16 behind the management office at 45 Newell Court; the second is on Thursday, Oct. 18, near the second management office at 2041 Euclid Ave. Both meetings are set for 6:30 p.m.
Tenants of East Palo Alto's largest affordable apartment complex are being made to show identification if they want to pay their rent, about 50 protesters said on Tuesday evening.
Chanting "No ID to pay our rent!" the tenants and their supporters called for property owner Sand Hill Property Company to rescind the new policy. The Palo Alto-based company owns the 1,800-unit Woodland Park properties on East Palo Alto's west side. Residents decried the new requirement as an attempt to intimidate and evict the largely immigrant tenants, many of whom have rent-controlled units under the city's rent-stabilization ordinance.
Alliance Residential, the property management company, denied the allegations and said they were protecting tenants' privacy from outsiders.
The landlord was recently lauded during East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica's State of the City address for some of its goodwill gestures, such as distributing backpacks and other goodies to tenants' children. But the wary tenants usaid that while that is all good, it seems more like a marketing or public relations ploy. Sand Hill often takes care to post a newsletter of all of its good deeds on each tenant's door, but never notified residents of the new ID requirement, a serious gaffe considering the sensitivity and fear among immigrants because of President Donald Trump's administration's deportation policies.
When the tenants came to the Woodland Park management office at 45 Newell Court at the end of September and beginning of October to pay their rent, management company employees told them they would not accept the rent check if the payer was not on the lease agreement. Residents said they were often on the lease agreement, but if the check was in a spouse's name, the rent was still not accepted. One tenant tried to pay her rent four times and was rejected for not being on the lease until someone in the office finally pulled out the contract and discovered she is the legal tenant, said Laura Rubio, co-president of immigrants rights group Comite de Vecinos del Lado Oeste.
A statement Sand Hill issued to the Weekly from Marko Tulcanaza, a senior business manager at Alliance Residential, said residents don't need to show their ID to pay their rent.
"We provide multiple convenient options for tenants to pay rent, including mail, online, and at multiple drop box locations conveniently located around the property," the statement said. "We only require ID before giving out any personal information. We take our tenants' privacy and safety seriously, and there have been previous attempts to access tenants' private information. Alliance does ask for ID if a payment receipt is requested, and we accept any government-issued photo ID.
"We have responded to everyone who has raised concerns and have asked for opinions on alternative ways to keep information secure. We have also heard from residents who support the policies to protect private information. We have scheduled listening sessions with residents next week and we look forward to brainstorming about alternative ways to protect tenants' privacy."
But an email to a tenant from Alliance's regional property manager Odis James, which was shared with the Weekly and dated Sept. 28, seemed to only add to the confusion.
"We are not intending to intimidate anyone, and we are certainly not targeting anyone. Everyone should be asked for their government-issued ID and asked to show it to the employee. I will remind our team to be consistent with these policies."
Outside of the management office on Tuesday, James first told the tenants they are not required to show identification. But confronted with the email, he defended the practice as a way to protect privacy.
James told the protesters that the management office has had instances of persons seeking information about whether a particular resident lives there. The persons making inquiries were trying to get personal information about which apartment the tenant lives in. Receipts show the tenant's address, which is private information, he said.
He also went a step further by stating the ID policy extends not only to rent, but it includes any time a tenant makes a service request, such as for a repair, he added.
Tenants said that would only further intimidate them from asking for repairs. Many persons of color and immigrants do not have access to such official U.S. or state identification. Some are unable to drive, have a disability or don't have transportation to reach an office where such identification is issued, they said. Others are undocumented residents.
Families and spouses often work two and three jobs, so the husband or wife might not be at home during office hours to pay the rent, according to Doroteo Garcia, an immigrant who said he feels intimidated. Staff rejected the rent of his neighbor who presented his consular documents, he added.
Some residents said the rule puts a hardship on residents who are sick or disabled and rely on others to deliver their check.
Patricia Wishart Garcia, chairwoman on the city's Rent Stabilization Board, said she went to pay her rent without her identification and staff told her she couldn't pay. "My husband's name was on the check because we use different checking accounts. Even if I had my identification they wouldn't accept it. He would have to show his ID to pay the rent," she said.
Staff admitted that if Garcia put her check in the drop box, she would not have to show identification. But neither would she receive a receipt for her payment, she was told.
Tameeka Bennett, executive director of Youth United for Community Action, which has been immersed in local housing issues, condemned the requirement.
"It is completely racist and anti-immigrant. It's an underhanded attempt to remove our families. East Palo Alto has a law for just-cause evictions. If the landlord can keep them from paying rents, you have just cause. I see this as a ploy for further gentrification," she said.
The tenants said they see the new rules as an attempt to intimidate people to move out or to force nonpayment of rent evictions that would then allow the landlord to raise the rent to market levels. The higher rents are likely to continue to push longtime and lower-income residents out of the city, they said.
Since the fiscal year that began on July 1, Woodland Park issued 136 three-day notices and 20 unlawful detainers (eviction notices), according to a Sept. 12 report by the rent stabilization program administrator.
Rent StabilizatiProgram administrator Victor Ramirez said during an earlier interview that it wasn't clear why so many people were unable to make the rent, but it is likely people are struggling to afford high rent prices, which is a regional problem.