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Is Menlo Park's 12-month lease policy working?

 

The experience of Karla and Chad's family and their request for a 12-month lease ultimately led them to the Menlo Park Housing Commission. Housing Commissioner Karen Grove, speaking as an individual, said that hearing about their predicament "added to my sense of urgency that we need to have protections" for renters.

That landlords can make tenants' requests for a 12-month lease so expensive or difficult raises questions about the one-year-old policy's effect – particularly as other Peninsula cities consider this and other renter policies. Redwood City just passed its own mandatory 12-month lease ordinance, and rejected a proposed requirement that a one-year lease not be more expensive than a month-to-month rental agreement.

Menlo Park Housing and Economic Development Manager Jim Cogan said the city has received anecdotal feedback that the policy has been helpful to tenants.

Joshua Howard, senior vice president at the California Apartment Association, said the 12-month lease ordinance "codified an industry best practice."

"Our members appreciate and recognize that these ordinances do not create any form of rent or price control, they do not create any barriers to evicting a problem tenant, and do not take flexibility away from an owner on how they renew their lease agreements when they come due for renewal," he said in a written statement.

On the other hand, Jason Tarricone, an attorney at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, said he has seen another narrative play out with the policy: "Anecdotally, we've seen it can have unintended consequences."

"We don't think it's a good idea," he added. "It can just prompt the landlord to raise the rent significantly."

Angie Evans, community builder at the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, said in an interview that there are two main flaws with the city's 12-month lease ordinance: It fails to protect renters from unpredictable rent increases, and it applies only to a very small number of households in the city. In the long term, she added, "If you actually want a holistic community, you have to protect current tenants and create more affordable housing."

One of the big challenges with trying to get data on such policies is that it is not readily tracked many places, Mr. Tarricone explained. This data is collected, though, in East Palo Alto as part of that city's rent control and just-cause eviction policies.

He said that while the legal services agency does not have data on how many households have been displaced in Menlo Park, "We have certainly represented many families who face eviction in Menlo Park because of very large rent increases or no-cause eviction notices."

Most displacement happens under the radar, he explained. "Unless an eviction case is filed, there's no official document or record-keeping of tenants who are getting eviction notices," he said.

Solutions

Ms. Evans pointed out that there are things that can be done to "actually prevent displacement." Putting in place disincentives to evict people – making property owners pay tenants' relocation fees, for instance – is one possibility.

"We would much rather see other tenant protections in place, such as just cause for eviction," said Mr. Tarricone. That's a law that says tenants can be evicted only for a good reason, he explained.

One recommendation he offered: requiring landlords to send cities a copy of any eviction notice or rent increase that's given. That wouldn't capture all the incidents of households being displaced or priced out of town, but it could be a first step to help a city understand the extent of the problem, he said.

Ms. Grove, again speaking not as a member of the Housing Commission, said, "I think there's not one answer." Inclusionary housing – requiring developers to designate a certain number of housing units they build across the city as affordable – is "going to take years before it kicks in."

"In the meantime," she added, "I think we should consider rent control, just-cause eviction, rental relocation – everything we can to keep our community intact. Once people are gone, they're gone."

If you have a story to share about displacement or Menlo Park's 12-month lease ordinance, contact reporter Kate Bradshaw at kbradshaw@almanacnews.com or (650) 223-6588.

Read related story here.

Comments

13 people like this
Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 11, 2018 at 12:52 pm

I've been renting apartments for 30 years. Instead of having tenants sign a new lease every year, which is a lot of work for the tenants, landlords and property management companies, why not pass a law that landlords cannot raise the rent more than once a year.

What I don't like about signing a lease EVERY year in the same apartment building is that I'm locked in if I want or need to move. No thanks. If renters knew they wouldn't have to worry about random rent increases throughout the year, there would be no need to sign a lease.

What apartment renters really need is rent control. There is no rent control in Menlo Park and it really hurts those of us without huge incomes - those of us who work hard and provide much needed services but can no longer afford to live here. Actually, it also hurts people who make 100K/year. Rent is about 30K/year for a crappy one bedroom apartment. That's a lot of dough!


Like this comment
Posted by Saimau Chan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 13, 2018 at 2:08 pm

One way to reduce rent price is to increase supply.

With the high rental price, there are house owners keeping their house from rental market because they do not want the headache and dangers of renting out a house.

There are a lot of laws to protect a renter but very few for the landlord.

I propose the city setup a minimum rental price, if someone rent out his/her space, he/she has a super power to evict a tenant.

With this rule, I think it will increase a lot of rental market. It also has the incentive to be a nice tenant.

I have a friend, he rented out his house when he was not rich. He is getting rich and he doesn't need the money but still leasing the house because the tenant is good and few bucks is a few bucks. He doesn't increase the rent and the tenant bakes him a cake once a while.

This example shows that lot of people want to lease their house if he knows the tenant is good.

The minimum rent can be 70% or lower than the market value.

I wonder is any one looks at how many idling house in San Francisco.


3 people like this
Posted by In what planet?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 16, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Mp has few renter protections. I have had friends evicted for no legitimate reason. Other friends have their rent raised large amounts several times per year. Market rate increases are far above the typical 3-5% raise that a person or couple earns every year, so they are very hard to absorb. Moving is costly, and finding a reasonably priced rental within commuting distance of jobs is really hard. All the newly built housing is luxury, not middle class, and rents have not dropped on the older housing stock either.

Landlords can evict anyone for any reason. As long as it's not blatant discrimination, the renter has no recourse. And even when the landlord does something illegal, the renter has to have the money to hire lawyers to fight it. Lose-lose proposition.

I would support caps on annual rent increases, and reasonable restrictions on evictions.


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