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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

San Leandro tenant relocation payment ordinance stymied, sent back to Rules Committee

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL
For the second time in as many weeks, a proposed tenant relocation payment program in San Leandro has failed to move forward. The San Leandro City Council sent back to committee, 5-2, Monday night a second iteration of the the program intended to compensate renters who are evicted through owner-initiated relocations.

The council previously voted, 6-1, on June 19 to support a tenant relocation payment ordinance requiring landlords to pay tenants three times the current Fair Market Rates published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It also caps payments at $10,000 and allows only a single $1,000 additional payment for tenants with minors or seniors. The ordinance also sets a threshold for landlords to pay relocation fees if they intend to raise rents by more than 12 percent during a given year.

But the ordinance, which would have received its second and final reading Monday also included an exemption for property owners with between 1-4 units, lobbied for by landlords. Additionally, the reworked ordinance would have allowed landlords to deduct damages not included in the tenant's regular security deposit from the relocation payment.

Tenants activists in San Leandro, who have pushed for greater protections for most of the past year, said the changes favored landlords.

"I come here for rent review meetings, for city council meetings for three years, the tenants come and ask for something and at the end of  process everything goes the way the city and the landlords want it," San Leandro renter Karyl Lee-Figueroa told the council. "The landlords come here. They invite you to luncheons to show you how much money they have to spend. The tenants get nothing at the end of the day."

However, a few points offered by tenant and landlords activists forced the city council to second-guess whether to move forward with approval of the ordinance. Among them, a call for the ordinance to distinguish between landlords with a single property and who may qualify for the 1-4 unit exemption as oppose to a landlord with multiples of smaller properties.

Tom Silva, a representative for the Rental Housing Authority and member of the San Leandro Rent Review Board, said recent questions over the legality of a San Francisco ordinance related to the Ellis Act should be incorporated into San Leandro relocation payment ordinance even if it meant delaying its approval. "We really want to get this right," said Silva, adding that it would help both tenants and landlords.

The San Francisco ordnance had required property owners to pay evicted tenants up to $50,000 in the event they sold the building and left the rental business. The state First District Court of Appeals struck down the ordinance in March and the state Supreme Court declined to review it last month.

Other property owners suggested the council require evicted tenants to provide some type of written proof that they have indeed acquired new housing in order to receive relocation payments.

The suggestions also appeared to create entirely new sets of additional questions among councilmembers about the soundness of the current proposed ordinance.

Councilmember Lee Thomas agreed with a need to differentiate between small-time property owners and those with numerous properties. He also questioned how the city will pay for additional staff costs related to enforcement and rules for people renting out rooms in their homes. Thomas motioned for the entire ordinance to be sent back to the council's rules committee for further discussion.

"I agree that this needs a lot of work," said Councilmember Corina Lopez. "I really haven't heard one member of the public say, 'I like this.' That says something." She was also critical of inhibiting public participation in the process by scheduling the meeting in the middle of the extended Fourth of July weekend.

While also noting the ordinance is not perfect, Councilmember Pete Ballew said its intent was to protect struggling renters. "I'm really disappointed about the direction this has gone," he said. "Ninety-eight percent of the landlords in San Leandro, I think, are good. Ninety-eight percent of the tenants are good. and we're crafting this for the two percent who have issues."

Ballew and Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter both opposed sending the ordinance back to rules. Cutter told landlords, some who claimed during public comment that they were honorable property owners,
"You don't have to worry because this isn't about you. This isn't about what we're trying to do. We're trying to protect people who do have that bad landlord."

Cutter then reiterated a warning she stated last month that tenants will eventually push for far more restrictive rent control in San Leandro if the council does not pass legislation beforehand to quell their fears. She added, "I don't believe in rent control."

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