Council split three ways over a proposal some see as rent control

Daily Post Staff Writer

The Menlo Park City Council appeared last night (Feb. 12) to be divided over a proposal some have labeled as rent control.

The ordinance would require landlords to pay the equivalent of three months’ rent to tenants if they raise the rent more than 9.3% and the hike forces tenants to move. The 9.3% figure is based on 5% plus the cost of living rate, which is currently 4.3% per year.

Mayor Ray Mueller said that it’s his belief a tenant relocation ordinance — which is what this is called — is not meant to stop the displacement of residents, but to help people being forced to move.

Redwood City ordinance offered as an example

Mueller suggested that the council consider an ordinance Redwood City passed last March to deal with the same issue.

The Redwood City ordinance requires landlords of complexes with three or more homes to offer residents a minimum one-year lease when they move in.

In addition, if a landlord intends to redevelop a property and evict the residents, he would have to pay the tenants three-months rent. Tenants who are over 62, have one or more children, or who have lived there for more than five years, would get more than three months.

Councilman Drew Combs supported Mueller’s proposal. Combs said he wanted make the ordinance stricter, by having it only apply to apartments.

As the ordinance is currently written, it would also apply to homes being rented out, but not to granny units.

Two support ordinance

Councilwomen Betsy Nash and Cecilia Taylor favored the ordinance, with both commenting that they heard support for this sort of measure while on the campaign trail.

The ordinance was approved by the city’s Housing Commission in October, with commissioner Rachel Horst making the motion to approve and Karen Grove seconding it.

The commission then recommended the ordinance to council with a 4-1-2 vote, with Horst, Grove, Nevada Merriman and Meg McGraw-Scherer in favor, Wendy McPherson against it and Julianna Dodick and Michele Tate absent.

Carlton says ‘Do it over’

Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said she wanted to go back to the drawing board to try to come up with different solutions to the problems that Menlo Park renters are having.

Carlton said the ordinance was essentially rent control because it is “limiting the amount that landlords can charge,” and noted that rent control has been shown not to work. Critics say rent control causes owners to take apartments off the market and use the property for other purposes.

However, proponents of the ordinance say it isn’t rent control but an “anti-poverty measure,” as Housing Commissioner McGraw-Scherer put it.

Assistant City Attorney Cara Silver said that legally, the ordinance is not rent control because landlords can still raise the rents as much as they want, but if they do, they have to pay the re- location fees.

At least 40 people went to the microphone yesterday to express their thoughts on the proposed ordinance. Many of them were landlords who were not happy with the ordinance.

Impact on mom-and-pop landlords

Landlord Mike Haddock said that 43% of the city’s “affordable” apartments are owned by mom-and-pop landlords, and said the ordinance would be “devastating” to the small-time landlords, and said it’s likely that if the ordinance is passed as is, many small-time landlords will sell off their properties, either taking them off the market to they will go to companies who want to get more money out of the rents.

Housing Commissioner Horst said the ordinance is not intended to “create winners or losers,” but to “keep people housed,” by protecting them from rents skyrocketing overnight.

Mueller ultimately directed Interim Housing Manager Clay Curtin to bring back at least two ordinances for the council to vote on Feb. 26 — his proposal for the Redwood City-based ordinance and the one preferred by Nash and Taylor.

Issue returns Feb. 26

The council agreed to have Curtin come up with an ordinance creating a fund for tenants who are evicted or have to move out and their landlord can’t or won’t pay the relocation fees. Mueller suggested the money could come from the city, county and possi- bly private donations.

The council also agreed to have Curtin bring back a proposal for a mediation board that would try to resolve issues between landlords and tenants when it appears that rent gouging is occurring.

Whether any of the four proposals that will be presented on Feb. 26 will pass is not clear, as no formal vote was taken. The consensus was only to have the issues discussed.