City aims to protect low-income tenants

City Council members are preparing to pass an emergency ordinance to protect low-income tenants in Palo Alto from being evicted by landlords before a new California law, Assembly Bill 1482, takes effect next year. The proposal was created by council members Tom DuBois and Lydia Kou.

According to Mayor Eric Filseth, AB 1482, also known as the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom into state law on Oct. 8, 2019. The act bans landlords from evicting tenants without a just cause and establishes rent control.

“State law AB 1482 (David Chiu, D-San Francisco) imposes rent controls statewide, including Palo Alto; it legally limits the amount that landlords can raise rents each year,” Filseth said.  “Rent controls are controversial, but it turns out that if you do have them, then you also need to have what is called ‘just cause evictionlaws as a companion measure.”

The tenants have to be leasing their houses or apartments for at least a year to be protected by this law and be at no-fault in their lease agreements, i.e. paying their rent regularly. The act also puts a cap of 5% plus inflation to the maximum annual rent increase for lease properties which are 15 years and older.

“You need these laws in order to prevent landlords from simply evicting tenants in order to get around the rent control law,” Filseth said. “‘Just cause eviction laws are actually rare if there’s no rent-control law in place; the two tend to go hand-in-hand.”

By doing so, landlords were trying to force low-income tenants to move out voluntarily, with the goal of attracting wealthier tenants who could pay higher rents before the AB 1482 takes effect next year.

One such landlord is Hohbach Realty, a real estate agency which owns several apartment buildings near California Avenue such as Park Plaza, Birch Plaza, Mayfield Apartments and others.

According to a memo released by City Council members, Hohbach Realty sent a letter to their tenants during the summer that the company was raising the rent by 25%.

After many residents protested, the company reduced the rent increase to 7%. Some residents, however, decided to leave. According to Marcus Wood, a property manager at Hohbach Realty, the company was unaware that AB 1482 was pending and, once they realized so, they decided to reduce the rate increase.

Resident and senior Maya Nazarewicz said she was particularly affected by these rate increases.

“I think most Palo Alto apartments are not worth what you pay for,” Nazarewicz said. “We pay a lot of money for our apartment, and it’s very old and small.”

Nazarewicz said many things are broken in her apartment and it takes a significant amount of time before they get fixed, including the air conditioning, which was turned off during the summer.

In the apartment Nazarewicz lived in before, her family was paying $3,000. To her surprise, the apartment was filled with mold, had no air conditioning, was exposed to no sunlight and was right next to a train.

“It’s not fair because in other cities, you can pay the same or less for more space and its much more modern,” Nazarewicz said.

Wood also argues that despite the 25% rent increase, many of the apartments under the company management are still below market rate.

Palo Alto is not the only city considering to pass such an emergency ordinance to protect low-income tenants from paying high rent increases. Other cities such as Menlo Park and Los Angeles  already passed similar ordinances to delay no-fault evictions until the end of the year.

As of Nov. 21, City Council has not passed the emergency ordinance to prevent no-fault evictions.

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