BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
Landlords will have to start paying the city of Palo Alto around $40 a year to register each of their rental units, council voted Monday night (Nov. 27).
The city will also require landlords to fill out a questionnaire about the leases they offer and what their rentals are like.
Council members are planning to use their answers to set policies that help renters, who make up nearly half of the city’s population.
“Part of what we’re looking for is just simply an audit of what we think is out there, but we might find other things,” Councilman Ed Lauing said.
Several property owners spoke against the registry at Monday’s meeting. They said the city is invading their privacy and trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
“It somewhat frightens me,” said Tom Gracon, a resident of 51 years.
Council voted 6-1 in favor. Councilman Greg Tanaka voted no because he said the registry would discourage people from becoming landlords.
“I believe that this proposal will actually decrease the rental stock in our community and make the homeless issue even worse,” he said.
The registry will be phased in over two or three years, starting with landlords who own three or more apartments and eventually reaching people who rent out single-family homes, duplexes and granny units.
Landlords can be fined $100 per day for each unit they fail to register, but the city will use discretion and not go overboard, Planning Director Jonathan Lait promised.
The effort to help renters started in 2018 after the President Hotel was bought by a developer. Residents were kicked out of 75 naturally affordable apartments in downtown Palo Alto in favor of a new hotel.
Council members Lydia Kou, Karen Holman and Tom DuBois twice proposed renter protections, including limits on rent increases, but they didn’t get a council majority to support them.
Council accepted a grant from a Mark Zuckerberg-funded foundation in June 2020 that committed the city to “develop a set of high-impact tenant protection and preservation policies and ensure adoption.”
Policy researcher Lauren Bigelow worked at City Hall for two years. Her salary was paid by a grant from the San Francisco Foundation, a nonprofit funded by Facebook and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, IRS records show.
Bigelow recommended nine different policies to protect renters in the summer of 2021, including a registry, and council has been working on them ever since.
Bigelow went on to become board president of the Palo Alto Renters’ Association, which is folding in with the pro-housing advocacy group Palo Alto Forward.
“We went from a place where renters weren’t really talked about, to regularly having renter protections discussed,” Bigelow said in an interview with the Post in June.