County: 'You shouldn't have to risk your life to be housed'

New ordinance requires landlords to pay some relocation costs for tenants living in unsafe conditions

San Mateo County now has a tool to help those renters who county officials say they have found living in "spaces that were never meant for human habitation," including welded cages in a warehouse, in closets and in storage lockers.

A new ordinance approved by the county's Board of Supervisors that goes into effect March 16 says that when tenants are found living in unsafe, illegal or substandard conditions, landlords must help pay costs for them to relocate to new housing.

The ordinance was given final approval by the supervisors at their Feb. 14 meeting.

The relocation benefits will pay for temporary housing if the existing housing can be made safe within 90 days. Otherwise the benefits will help pay the costs of finding permanent replacement housing.

Assistant County Manager Mike Callagy said the new ordinance began with the basic premise that "you shouldn't have to risk your life to be housed in this county."

The ordinance is "very narrowly tailored to specific situations" in which people are living in an illegal structure, or a legal structure that is unsafe because of building code violations, he said.

Mr. Callagy said problems include bare wiring and lack of ventilation, exposing residents to carbon monoxide.

"People are in dire need of housing and they're willing to live anywhere," he said.

County Building Official Miles Hancock said units have been found with no heat and makeshift showers and toilets.

"This ordinance sends a clear message to those who have chosen to take advantage of tenants" by renting substandard housing, Mr. Callagy said. "There will be consequences."

Deputy County Counsel Brian Kulich said previously, if someone was found to be renting units with "severe code violations" that required tenants to move out, either the tenants or the county ended up paying the moving costs. "This is a particular burden for low-income tenants," he said.

"We want to change that," he said. "We want to hold that property owner responsible."

David Carducci, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, said such unsafe living conditions are "one of the biggest problems we are seeing."

"Every week I'm seeing people come and tell us stories about the kind of thing you're talking about today," he said. He heard from a woman and her teenage son living in a closet, and many others in "overcrowded, unsafe, unsanitary conditions," he said.

Many such situations are never reported because tenants do not want to lose their homes, he said.

The supervisors unanimously approved the ordinance, but gave it a one-year sunset date at the suggestion of Supervisor Warren Slocum, who said there could be "potential unexpected consequences to this policy."

Supervisor Don Horsley said trying to improve housing conditions "is one of the reasons I ran for the board." He said the county found people in Princeton living in old Muni buses with no sanitation, no heating and no power, and in dry-docked boats.

The law has an appeal process and exceptions for cases in which the condition was created by the tenants or their guests, or by an accident or a natural disaster.

Tenants who will be displaced for more than 90 days will receive three months of rent at the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) fair market rate, plus up to $1,000 for moving costs and related expenses.

Those who are temporarily displaced will be repaid their costs of the displacement up to the maximum of what would be paid for a permanent displacement.

Those who must move out in fewer than 30 days can get an additional $1,000.

If a landlord does not pay the tenant, the county may make the payments and be reimbursed, including administrative costs, plus penalties.


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Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 17, 2017 at 4:33 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Government should not interfere with a natural continuum of housing.

8 people like this
Posted by 18th year
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 17, 2017 at 4:39 pm

Jack is the anti-community libertarian that would have private companies operate toll roads if he could.

America has always been a nation of community members getting together to raise a barn, not a group of selfish "I got mine" loners.

2 people like this
Posted by @Jack Hickey
a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2017 at 4:42 pm

"Government should not interfere with a natural continuum of housing."

No such thing exists, Jacko. Stop with the libertarian fantasies of yours.

And read some Charles Dickens sometime.

4 people like this
Posted by Jack is right
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 17, 2017 at 11:06 pm

It pains me to say this, but Jack is right.

Look, we're all good people, none of us want our neighbors living in unsafe conditions. Period. But is this ordinance going to somehow compel slumlords to cure their deferred maintenance? Of course not.

What will happen when one of these slumlords gets caught? I'll bet that the tenants will go to all lengths to protect their landlords and prevent anyone from reporting their unit. Why? Because they will lose their housing! And we know that they care so desperately to have a place to live in this area that they will accept substandard conditions ...

It's a lose-lose proposition. Like it or not, the slumlords provide a "service" and fill a need for "housing" at a certain price point. I'm not glamorizing it, and I'm not saying that what they do is not despicable ... you just have to admit it's not 100% despicable.

All too often we create laws that have unintended side effects. My fear is that this will actually end up hurting the very people it intends to protect by effectively kicking them to the streets.

9 people like this
Posted by 18th year
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 18, 2017 at 12:45 am

What? You said Jack was right when he said "Government should not interfere with a natural continuum of housing."

You defended it with this tripe: "All too often we create laws that have unintended side effects."

We are a nation of laws. Kinda says that in our founding documents. Perhaps there is a better place for you, one with less laws?

2 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2017 at 1:08 am

They better enforce this. There are egregious, completely avoidable violations all over the county. It's reprehensible and inexcusable in a county with such an abundance of wealth and resources.

2 people like this
Posted by 18th year
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 18, 2017 at 1:26 am

Jack would have a virtually lawless society with the local (for profit) museum filled with initial-clad kicks like these Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by Jack is right
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 18, 2017 at 10:59 am

18th year said: "What? You said Jack was right when he said "Government should not interfere with a natural continuum of housing." You defended it with this tripe: "All too often we create laws that have unintended side effects.""

This is supposed to be one of the most intelligent communities on the planet. I'm really disappointed. [Portion removed; stick to the issue and don't attack other posters.]

I'm not going to take on and defend anyone else's verbiage. But the greater point Jack is making is right: government interference on this area will only hurt the supposed 'protected class'.

I stand by the statement "All too often we create laws that have unintended side effects". Unless you meant to say that in this specific discussion, having inadequate supply of housing and forcing working families into slums is an intended side effect of our current land use and zoning policies.

Surely you're smart enough to understand that the reason our neighbors are living in these illegal, squalid conditions is because the policy world -- which should promote the creation of housing that's abundant at a wide range of different price points -- has failed them and left them with nothing.

When a vendor sells a product other people demand, sometimes we call the vendor an entrepreneur, sometimes we call them a criminal, depending on the law. Sometimes the law does not adequately direct for what's most productive for society and turns a would-be entrepreneur into a criminal in the eyes of the law. But such a vendor can still be a hero to the customer. Ethics are not 100% black and white.

Clearly there is money to be made housing our lower income, working class neighbors. and if there were an above-board way to do it, it would be done. We should promote policies that result in legal, above-board, ways to increase the housing stock. Otherwise we end up with this slumlord situation. But no matter which way policy directs, all of our neighbors need housing and they will find a way to get it, whether legal or illegal.

2 people like this
Posted by 18th year
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 18, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Jack is right says : Let the free market build safe, quality housing for the poor.

An odd assertion, since we know that the 'free market' will only do so if they get money from the big ol' evil government. Without that, we've seen exactly what the 'free market' is willing to do for their fellow man down on his luck.

As another poster suggested to Jack.... see: Dickens, Charles

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jul 17, 2017 at 2:49 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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