BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
A controversial ordinance that critics have called rent control in disguise will go to Menlo Park City Council tonight (Feb. 12).
The ordinance will make it so a tenant would be eligible for a payment equal to three months’ rent if the rent goes up by more than 5%, plus the Bay Area consumer price index, or CPI, which is now 4.3%.
If a landlord increases the rent by more than 9.3%, which causes a tenant to move out because they can’t afford it, the landlord would have to pay the tenant three months’ rent as “relocation assistance.”
The ordinance, which has been in the works since last summer, is an attempt to keep low-income residents from having to leave the area as a result of landlords raising rents in order to get tenants to move out.
“By reducing the financial impacts of unexpected displacement, a relocation assistance ordinance may help prevent homelessness, keep more of these residents in Menlo Park, reduce household disruption and preserve community continuity,” interim city Housing Manager Clay Curtin writes in the report.
The ordinance includes “means testing” — meaning that a four-person household would have to make under $177,600 a year in order to be eligible for the relocation assistance.
Additionally, landlords who may be financially unable to pay the relocation assistance will be able to file a waiver with the city to get out of paying the tenants.
Additionally, the ordinance lays out reasons that landlords would not have to pay the relocation fees:
• If the tenant doesn’t pay rent;
• There’s a breach of the rental agreement;
• The owner moves into the unit;
• The tenants continue to cause a nuisance, and
• If the lease expires.
City Council was supposed to review the ordinance at its Jan. 29 meeting, but without comment the item was pulled so the city attorney’s office could look into the legislation.
The ordinance will reach council just three months after 59.4% of Californians rejected Prop 10, which would have repealed the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limits rent control to units built before 1995. In San Mateo County, 57.2% of voters rejected Prop 10.
Costa-Hawkins conflict possible
The owners of Anton Menlo Apartments at 3639 Haven Ave. sent a letter in August suggesting that the ordinance may be pre-empted by Costa-Hawkins.
Curtin’s report notes that there are no court cases that have directly dealt with this issue, despite other cities passing similar relocation laws.
“There is some risk that the court could adopt Anton Menlo’s position and invalidate the ‘significant rent increase’ provision of the draft ordinance as a violation of Costa-Hawkins,” Curtin writes.
The council could eliminate the risk of a lawsuit and get rid of the rent caps, but it would not address the very issue that the ordinance is trying to fix — the forced relocation of longtime Menlo Park residents due to high rent increases.
This is one of the issues that Curtin is asking the council to decide tonight.
No vote will be taken on the ordinance, however. The meeting is only a study session, where residents will be able to give input on the ordinance and council can give feedback to Curtin on whether to change the proposal or dump it.
Mayor Ray Mueller said that since the meeting is a study session, council can go through the legislation “piece by piece” and really scrutinize the proposal.