Some landlords in Menlo Park will be required to give renters the option of a 12-month lease as early as February 2017. The policy was approved unanimously by the Menlo Park City Council Nov. 9.
The measure affects only those living in rental apartments that contain four or more housing units, and there is a long list of housing types exempted from the requirement: single-family homes, condos, duplexes, triplexes, secondary dwelling units, and government-subsidized housing. Hotel rooms, boarding houses and hospital rooms are also exempt.
Many of the exemptions are because of California law, but the exemption for duplexes and triplexes came after prodding by representatives from the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors and California Apartment Association.
Penelope Huang of the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors suggested the council apply the policy to apartments of four or more units because that's the typical threshold for when professional management gets involved, she said.
It's not yet known exactly how many renters will be affected. Menlo Park currently has 3,148 housing units that are considered "multi-family" and have more than four units. The ordinance could affect roughly a quarter of Menlo Park's housing units.
The council built in a 60-day window to educate landlords about the new policy before it would take effect after final approval, which is slated to happen at the council's Dec. 6 meeting.
The Menlo Park City Council was a little more wary about approving an ordinance that would create a system for renters and landlords in disputes over rent increases to meet with a third-party mediator.
Cities that have such programs, such as Palo Alto, sometimes contract the services out, but such a program would have as-yet-unknown costs. The program was initially called "mandatory non-binding arbitration" but mediation is a simpler, clearer term for what the program would be, said City Attorney Bill McClure.
The council agreed to ask the housing commission to research this further and make recommendations for the council.
Evelyn Stivers of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County said that in her experience, such programs can actually give renters false hope about being able to get a rent reduction.
Generally, when people are at the breaking point of what's affordable for them, they need two things, she said: time to find a new place to live and enough money for a down payment. If the city implements a mediation program, it should have clear information about the success rate, and provide people with information about other resources that can help them.
The council agreed to host a joint meeting with the housing commission in January to discuss other anti-displacement options and talk to local experts.