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New law seeks to aid Palo Alto tenants facing eviction

City's expanded relocation assistance policy would apply to buildings with 10 or more apartments

Evictions at the President Hotel, formerly an apartment building at 488 University Ave., prompted the council to adopt the city's first relocation assistance law in 2018. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Palo Alto tenants who face eviction could be eligible for relocation assistance from their landlords thanks to a law that the City Council adopted on Monday night.

By a 5-1 vote, with Greg Tanaka dissenting and Greer Stone recusing himself, the council expanded a law that it had adopted in 2018 in response to the evictions from President Hotel, a 75-unit apartment building that is being converted into a hotel. The existing policy entitles tenants to receive payments ranging from $7,000 for a studio to $17,000 for an apartment with three or more bedrooms.

That policy, however, only applied to buildings with 50 or more apartments. The law that the council passed Monday broadens the policy to include all buildings with 10 or more apartments, a change that more than doubles the number of apartments citywide that fall under the program.

According to the American Community Survey, about 1,228 apartments in Palo Alto are in buildings with between 10 units and 19 units. Another 1,579 apartments are in buildings with between 20 and 49 units. Together, these two categories make up nearly a quarter of the city's total stock of rental housing.

Meanwhile, buildings with 50 or more units have a total of 2,576 units between them, or 21.9% of the city's rental stock.

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Supporters of tenant rights, including the nonprofit Silicon Valley at Home and the local group Palo Alto Renters' Association, cheered the move as a positive step to supporting renters, who make up about 45% of the city's population.

"We see more and more people getting evicted through no fault of their own," said Christian Beauvoir, a member of the Palo Alto Renters' Association. "You have people who've been living in Palo Alto for 35 years. We have large management companies — people who own a lot of buildings coming in and buying this real estate because they know it can be profitable and they're displacing large parts of our community, putting out six people at a time, 10 people at a time or more."

One area where residents have reported evictions is Layne Court, a small cul-de-sac with four residential properties just off on Middlefield Road in the Midtown neighborhood. The properties are owned by the real estate company Spieker Companies. Tenants in several of these units are now undergoing eviction proceedings, though the city could not say how many units this is affecting.

Stone lives on Layne Court and was advised by the city attorney to recuse from the Monday discussion. The recusal, he told this news organization, was based on "potential legal conflict and appearance of conflict."

Layne Court is hardly the only property in Palo Alto where evictions are occurring, Beauvoir said. His association has seen a steady uptick in recent months in residents facing eviction and seeking assistance.

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"Eviction moratorium has been over for a few months — and we've had residents of multiple buildings reach out to us because the whole building is getting evicted, or to get help for navigating the process associated with evictions," Beauvoir told this news organization.

In some cases, landlords are putting up voluntary notices to terminate or relocate on tenants' doors, which advise them to vacate the building by a set deadline. It's easy for a tenant who is not an attorney to assume that they are being evicted, Beauvoir said.

'We see more and more people getting evicted through no fault of their own.'

-Christian Beauvoir, member, Palo Alto Renters' Association

Last month, his organization was assisting Mohamed Chakmakchi, a sixth grade teacher at Greene Middle School who signed a lease in December 2020 and was told 10 months later that the lease would not be renewed, with no further explanation. According to the Palo Alto Renters' Association, the landlord circumvented state law by maintaining at first that they are looking to renovate the property and then asserting that they are planning to move the unit off the market.

"The landlord got a lawyer and they began to find one excuse after another until they found one that stuck," Beauvoir said in an interview.

The association began raising funds for Chakmachi by launching a GoFundMe page on Jan. 23. Within a week, 229 people had donated a total of $22,201 to help Chakmachi, who teaches drama and Spanish immersion, according to the page.

"We know the pandemic has destroyed people's savings," Beauvoir said. "People are struggling."

While the council hopes the new law will help tenants facing displacement, members acknowledged that enforcing the new rules would be a challenge. Mayor Pat Burt, who supported the change, noted that many landlords will look for ways to get around the city's renter protection laws. In the case of Layne Court, the landlord appears to be flouting local rules about what constitutes a remodel, Burt said.

Despite this possibility, most council members agreed that the new law merits support. Vice Mayor Lydia Kou suggested going even further and setting the threshold for triggering relocation assistance at five units, though her colleagues opposed the idea because it would impact too many small landlords.

But while the new policy aims to protect tenants, not everyone was cheering the change. Kevin Guibara, director of real estate company Millennium Flats, which owns numerous apartment buildings in Palo Alto, argued in a letter to the council that the types of renter protections that the council is contemplating are "damaging the local economy and ultimately create an environment where lower income residents are not able to earn their income, but become reliant on more government subsidies."

"The housing market is over regulated which is why there is not enough housing," Guibara wrote. "Please do not continue to make the problem worse by passing more rules."

During the Planning and Transportation Commission's discussion last week, Commissioner Bart Hechtman suggested that the move might encourage landlords to raise rents in anticipation of having to pay relocation assistance. Council member Greg Tanaka voiced a similar concern Monday. Landlords, he said, already have to bear the costs of mortgages and building maintenance and the new policy will further burden them.

'The housing market is over regulated which is why there is not enough housing.'

-Kevin Guibara, director, Millennium Flats

"I think what's going to happen is this is going to essentially increase the rent for people," Tanaka said. "They're going to do it because they have no choice. And if they can't, they'll perhaps even lose money on the property, which will be a tough situation."

His colleagues, however, agreed that the benefit to tenants would outweigh the burden on landlords.

"I don't want to see the instability, especially with families, young children and seniors, who are also affected by all of this," Kou said.

The council's action is the first in what promises to be a series of reforms aimed to address tenant protections. Later this year, council members plan to consider policies that would limit how much landlords are allowed to charge for security deposits and that would prohibit rent gouging.

The city is also preparing to create a city registry of rental properties, a broad survey that will help guide it through future policies related to tenant protections.

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Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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New law seeks to aid Palo Alto tenants facing eviction

City's expanded relocation assistance policy would apply to buildings with 10 or more apartments

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Feb 1, 2022, 12:51 am

Palo Alto tenants who face eviction could be eligible for relocation assistance from their landlords thanks to a law that the City Council adopted on Monday night.

By a 5-1 vote, with Greg Tanaka dissenting and Greer Stone recusing himself, the council expanded a law that it had adopted in 2018 in response to the evictions from President Hotel, a 75-unit apartment building that is being converted into a hotel. The existing policy entitles tenants to receive payments ranging from $7,000 for a studio to $17,000 for an apartment with three or more bedrooms.

That policy, however, only applied to buildings with 50 or more apartments. The law that the council passed Monday broadens the policy to include all buildings with 10 or more apartments, a change that more than doubles the number of apartments citywide that fall under the program.

According to the American Community Survey, about 1,228 apartments in Palo Alto are in buildings with between 10 units and 19 units. Another 1,579 apartments are in buildings with between 20 and 49 units. Together, these two categories make up nearly a quarter of the city's total stock of rental housing.

Meanwhile, buildings with 50 or more units have a total of 2,576 units between them, or 21.9% of the city's rental stock.

Supporters of tenant rights, including the nonprofit Silicon Valley at Home and the local group Palo Alto Renters' Association, cheered the move as a positive step to supporting renters, who make up about 45% of the city's population.

"We see more and more people getting evicted through no fault of their own," said Christian Beauvoir, a member of the Palo Alto Renters' Association. "You have people who've been living in Palo Alto for 35 years. We have large management companies — people who own a lot of buildings coming in and buying this real estate because they know it can be profitable and they're displacing large parts of our community, putting out six people at a time, 10 people at a time or more."

One area where residents have reported evictions is Layne Court, a small cul-de-sac with four residential properties just off on Middlefield Road in the Midtown neighborhood. The properties are owned by the real estate company Spieker Companies. Tenants in several of these units are now undergoing eviction proceedings, though the city could not say how many units this is affecting.

Stone lives on Layne Court and was advised by the city attorney to recuse from the Monday discussion. The recusal, he told this news organization, was based on "potential legal conflict and appearance of conflict."

Layne Court is hardly the only property in Palo Alto where evictions are occurring, Beauvoir said. His association has seen a steady uptick in recent months in residents facing eviction and seeking assistance.

"Eviction moratorium has been over for a few months — and we've had residents of multiple buildings reach out to us because the whole building is getting evicted, or to get help for navigating the process associated with evictions," Beauvoir told this news organization.

In some cases, landlords are putting up voluntary notices to terminate or relocate on tenants' doors, which advise them to vacate the building by a set deadline. It's easy for a tenant who is not an attorney to assume that they are being evicted, Beauvoir said.

Last month, his organization was assisting Mohamed Chakmakchi, a sixth grade teacher at Greene Middle School who signed a lease in December 2020 and was told 10 months later that the lease would not be renewed, with no further explanation. According to the Palo Alto Renters' Association, the landlord circumvented state law by maintaining at first that they are looking to renovate the property and then asserting that they are planning to move the unit off the market.

"The landlord got a lawyer and they began to find one excuse after another until they found one that stuck," Beauvoir said in an interview.

The association began raising funds for Chakmachi by launching a GoFundMe page on Jan. 23. Within a week, 229 people had donated a total of $22,201 to help Chakmachi, who teaches drama and Spanish immersion, according to the page.

"We know the pandemic has destroyed people's savings," Beauvoir said. "People are struggling."

While the council hopes the new law will help tenants facing displacement, members acknowledged that enforcing the new rules would be a challenge. Mayor Pat Burt, who supported the change, noted that many landlords will look for ways to get around the city's renter protection laws. In the case of Layne Court, the landlord appears to be flouting local rules about what constitutes a remodel, Burt said.

Despite this possibility, most council members agreed that the new law merits support. Vice Mayor Lydia Kou suggested going even further and setting the threshold for triggering relocation assistance at five units, though her colleagues opposed the idea because it would impact too many small landlords.

But while the new policy aims to protect tenants, not everyone was cheering the change. Kevin Guibara, director of real estate company Millennium Flats, which owns numerous apartment buildings in Palo Alto, argued in a letter to the council that the types of renter protections that the council is contemplating are "damaging the local economy and ultimately create an environment where lower income residents are not able to earn their income, but become reliant on more government subsidies."

"The housing market is over regulated which is why there is not enough housing," Guibara wrote. "Please do not continue to make the problem worse by passing more rules."

During the Planning and Transportation Commission's discussion last week, Commissioner Bart Hechtman suggested that the move might encourage landlords to raise rents in anticipation of having to pay relocation assistance. Council member Greg Tanaka voiced a similar concern Monday. Landlords, he said, already have to bear the costs of mortgages and building maintenance and the new policy will further burden them.

"I think what's going to happen is this is going to essentially increase the rent for people," Tanaka said. "They're going to do it because they have no choice. And if they can't, they'll perhaps even lose money on the property, which will be a tough situation."

His colleagues, however, agreed that the benefit to tenants would outweigh the burden on landlords.

"I don't want to see the instability, especially with families, young children and seniors, who are also affected by all of this," Kou said.

The council's action is the first in what promises to be a series of reforms aimed to address tenant protections. Later this year, council members plan to consider policies that would limit how much landlords are allowed to charge for security deposits and that would prohibit rent gouging.

The city is also preparing to create a city registry of rental properties, a broad survey that will help guide it through future policies related to tenant protections.

Comments

felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2022 at 7:31 am
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2022 at 7:31 am

[Portion removed.]

Good work City Council for passing this sensible policy.

Except of course to Greg Tanaka who votes consistently anti-renter. He voted no, though the policy change doesn’t apply to “just cause” evictions, and owners of 10 or more units are making a boatload of money and can afford relocation payments.

Tanaka’s vote appeases the rental housing industry which may donate to his campaign, but it surely doesn’t represent most Palo Altans.



James
Registered user
Midtown
on Feb 1, 2022 at 8:25 am
James, Midtown
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2022 at 8:25 am

This is not good for disadvantaged renters. Landlord would demand a credit score 750+ or something like it, or software engineers from India or China on H1B visa applying for green card. Other applicants will be rejected for one reason or another. Now it makes more sense to rent at an effective rate of $2500 to a H1B software engineer, instead of a nominal rent of $3000 to a lab technician single mother. Council members probably knew the ramifications.


Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2022 at 10:51 am
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2022 at 10:51 am

This policy is counterproductive, and will reduce investment in housing in Palo Alto, and result in fewer lower income tenants being able to rent in Palo Alto.

Also, it impinges on people's property rights; neither the city of Palo Alto nor the tenants own these properties, yet they place costs and restraints on those who do via their political power.

The outcome will be that landlords will be less likely to rent to tenants who might end up being evicted. Why would a landlord risk that and have to swallow this cost?


Angie
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2022 at 11:21 am
Angie, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2022 at 11:21 am
WhatAboutme
Registered user
Midtown
on Feb 1, 2022 at 12:37 pm
WhatAboutme, Midtown
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2022 at 12:37 pm

[Portion removed.]

My opinion on this is that I do not agree with this being as we are still in a pandemic and this new law will go on .. and on,

And also, to FELIX, not all landlords are making 'boatloads of money'.

This entire article... renter's rights, the Palo Alto Renters' Association profits off renters, this is not a 'free for all', and I agree w CITZEN's comment. What landlord will want to lease to anyone if they fear that this person will go from rental to rental (my words not CITIZENS), only to look forward to this 'landfall' of $$ when they are evicted?

We are still in the pandemic, I see no reason why council would've asked this to be looked to later ..

And to FELIX, :
" Tanaka’s vote appeases the rental housing industry which may donate to his campaign, but it surely doesn’t represent most Palo Altans."

No.. you don't know this, maybe Tanaka is quite aware that there are so many that taking all the advantages 'available to them'..and living well I might add.


W. Reller
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2022 at 2:05 pm
W. Reller, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2022 at 2:05 pm

I am sympathetic with the direction of this effort but not sure it is the correct thing to do.
I wonder how many realize the losses sustained by owners during the pandemic, a little bit the other side off the coin.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2022 at 4:10 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2022 at 4:10 pm

Private property rights have gotten way over the top in our land of the "free" and streets of the depraved. This fact is real and run-away capitalism. We are nearing a Bay Area humanitarian crisis with unhoused refugee camps everywhere along the boundaries and interior corridors of the Peninsula. Why was seemed okay to destroy homes and communities when freeways came in the 1950's and 1960's during that infrastructure period. Now. Our unhoused are the first line of defense and are the "elephant in the room" of horrid human neglect right over our white picket fences. A little humanity and dignity goes a long way. I will not give up the fight for our unhoused neighbors, the price gauging of rents, the loopholes cooperate rental markets charge a low-income family to have a roof over their family. The struggle is real. These are not pretty conversations yet the unraveling of our social fabric demands we have these talks to make change for the good. Housing is a human right. Just like healthcare, just like voting, just like that...


Ed Lauing
Registered user
Professorville
on Feb 1, 2022 at 5:51 pm
Ed Lauing , Professorville
Registered user
on Feb 1, 2022 at 5:51 pm

This ordinance amendment applies ONLY to NO-FAULT EVICTIONS of tenants. Such an action is entirely driven by the landlord for their convenience - including situations such as the landlord choosing to house a family member in the unit. The simple goal is to aid the evicted, no-fault tenant for the costs of moving to a new apartment. At the Planning and Transportation Commission last week, on which I serve, we supported this ordinance 5-1. (We were only asked by Council to review the unit size to which the ordinance applies - not the payment amounts.)

Councilmember Tanaka and others claim this ordinance creates a possible future expense which means landlords will raise rents at the beginning of a lease to cover costs of this ordinance – just in case they someday choose to execute a no-fault eviction. Hence, the argument goes, housing now will be less affordable. I don’t buy that economic analysis. Why would a landlord raise rents higher than their competitors based on the slight chance that a year or so from original occupancy they might CHOOSE to pull the trigger on evicting a no-fault tenant? On a two-bedroom unit the landlord would have to raise rent $1000 month. That won’t work in a competitive market.

Hopefully, there is an incentive in the amended ordinance for landlords to reduce no-fault evictions, pay no relocation amounts, and reduce disruption in the lives of our city’s renters.

-


Virginia Smedberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2022 at 12:12 am
Virginia Smedberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2022 at 12:12 am

I agree with Ed - Hopefully, there is an incentive in the amended ordinance for landlords to reduce no-fault evictions, pay no relocation amounts, and reduce disruption in the lives of our city’s renters. - would n't that be the more ethical route (i.e. considering the least harm to the fewest and the most benefit to the most people)? A house - a roof and walls to rotect one from the elements, and for the kids a space to call their own - is SO important in a family. And for teachers, who make much less money than some of the techies, we need them IN OUR NEIGHBORHOODS, not commuting hours. What is the valuable i.e. exchangeable with the community, product of a landlord? it SHOULD be homes for people to create stability, from which they can then work without all the worries of losing that place they can call home. PLEASE look at the big picture from a humanitarian perspective.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2022 at 12:13 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2022 at 12:13 pm

Thank you Virginia ! Feels like the safely housed and securely housed in this city are beginning to listen and hear and act on how dire the unhoused reality is in The Bay Area ... further this reality is the tipping point of everything economic, CoVID, supply — all in between. We have to take responsibility for the decisions made over last 40/50 years in our US of A. A culture shift in what it means to be free, to be Democratic to feel safe. Q: it’s a real, tragic truth here: it’s easier right now to own a gun than is to have a safe, reasonable, equitable home in which to thrive, dream and grow.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2022 at 2:07 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 2, 2022 at 2:07 pm

Clarification. It's easier to own a gun and more accessible to live in a car, or end up in jail, then it is to be housed under a safe reasonably priced residence in the Bay Area. When did providing a home for ourselves and/or our families become such that only an elite, lucky few get to participate. Meaning. Those earning $100 thousand dollars a year or more. Reality check. We have no other choice but to be stacked 14 people deep in tiny squeezed rental spaces. Palo Alto parents demand excellence from our teachers and yet we provide nothing in return. No local homes for those we trust in leading our children to adulthood. Shame filled as well as unacceptable behavior.


Blurie
Registered user
Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2022 at 12:36 pm
Blurie, Barron Park
Registered user
on Feb 26, 2022 at 12:36 pm

Nothing a cap, That is, rent control wouldn’t fix! Why give preference to H1B visa foreigners when our own people cannot afford rent in Palo Alto to do their work or afford to live near their work, wtf.
Might as well be a communist country here


Jim King
Registered user
another community
on Feb 27, 2022 at 9:08 am
Jim King, another community
Registered user
on Feb 27, 2022 at 9:08 am

* "Why give preference to H1B visa foreigners when our own people cannot afford rent in Palo Alto to do their work or afford to live near their work, wtf."

^ Because in many ways the highly skilled & talented H1B designated engineers from abroad are making key contributions in the area of high-tech developments and innovations.

This cannot be said for many of the recently displaced renters being discussed.

Sometimes it is better to accommodate those individuals whose work benefits all of society rather than focusing on a few abstract evictions involving lesser talented and educated individuals.

After all, how many of us here are using Apple iPhones, MacBooks, iPads, and various Google products and services?

Silicon Valley is synonymous with high-tech development as is Redmond, WA where I currently work and reside.

And besides, landlords have a right to maximize profits on their rental properties...just ask any of the wealthier commercial landlords along University Avenue in Palo Alto.

Given the demand, when one tenant (or renter) departs, chances are there will be countless others clamoring for the site and willing to pay the asking price.

This is pure Reaganomics and economic Darwinism...not rocket science


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