Renter protections failed these Bay Area tenants: Now they’re demanding change

REDWOOD CITY — As members of the Freedonia Tenants Union brace
for rent hikes that will more than double their payments —
forcing them out of their homes, and maybe even out of the state
— they’re finding no help in their city’s new renter
protection ordinances.

That’s because the rules, which went into effect Jan. 1, offer
no recourse for people like them. In an effort to give tenants more
stability, Redwood City now requires landlords to offer all tenants
a one-year lease. But the rules do nothing to prevent a landlord
from raising the rent every year, or evicting tenants when their
leases expire. The rules also require landlords to pay relocation
assistance to qualified tenants who are evicted, but tenants like
the Freedonia renters who are priced out get nothing.

As the Freedonia tenants fall through the gaps left open by the
city’s laws, they’re desperately trying to convince their
elected officials that tenant protections that look good on paper
may be unhelpful, or even harmful. It’s a cry for help that
highlights how trying to assist renters often isn’t as easy as it
seems.

And it comes as other jurisdictions, under increasing pressure
to protect vulnerable renters, are enacting or considering the same
rules. Menlo Park passed a one-year lease requirement in 2016, and
is set to hold its second vote on a limited relocation assistance
ordinance Tuesday. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is
scheduled to discuss similar ordinances March 26.

Tenants rights activists are imploring them to reconsider.

“We are now seeing the consequences of this new legislation,
and it turns out this legislation can be used to harm tenants,”
said attorney Daniel Saver of Community Legal Services East Palo
Alto, who is working with the Freedonia tenants. “We would hope
that (Redwood City) would reconsider these laws in light of the
very real unintended consequences that tenants are now
suffering.”

REDWOOD
CITY, CA – MARCH 7: Stasha Powell and her neighbor Devin Davis
— members of the Freedonia Tenants Union — are fighting rent
increases in the two neighboring Duane Street apartment buildings
where they live in Redwood City, Calif., Thursday, March 7, 2019
(Karl Mondon /Bay Area News Group) 

The owners of the Freedonia tenants’ apartments — two
neighboring two-story buildings on Duane Street in Redwood City —
say they would have held off on issuing rent increases if City
Council hadn’t forced their hand with the new one-year lease
ordinance.

“First and foremost, we are empathetic to all the tenants at
the property,” a representative of the owners, 100-150 Duane
Street LLC, wrote in an emailed statement. When the owners took
over the buildings a year ago, their property tax bill jumped up by
more than $100,000 from what the prior owner paid, the
representative wrote.

Tenant advocates say in the Bay Area’s overheated rental
markets, landlords are eager to raise rents, and they may use
ordinances like Redwood City’s new one-year lease rule as the
perfect opportunity to do so.

The Freedonia Tenants Union, named after the fictional country
of Freedonia in the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” film, is made
up of four residents of the Duane Street apartments. In January,
the owners offered several apartments one-year leases at about
$2,300 a month, effective May 1. For many of the residents, who
have lived there for years and pay far below market rate, that’s
an increase of more than 100 percent. Ten units received rent
increases in all.

“I can’t pay that,” said Kat Pachinger, a 31-year-old
gymnastics and fitness coach. She currently pays $1,070 a month for
the one-bedroom apartment she’s lived in for more than nine
years.

REDWOOD
CITY, CA – MARCH 7: Kat Pachinger — a member of the Freedonia
Tenants Union — shows off the shower where she’s had no hot
water for the past five months in her Duane Street apartment
building in Redwood City, Calif., Thursday, March 7, 2019.
Pachinger is fighting a proposed rent increase. (Karl Mondon /Bay
Area News Group) 

The owners also offered tenants the option of a month-to-month
lease, with gradual increases that will hit about $2,500 by
September — about the same price that the property managers are
currently advertising for a completely remodeled unit in the
building.

Instead, the Duane Street renters formed the Freedonia Tenants
Union to fight the rent hikes. They’re holding a rally outside
City Hall at 6 p.m. Monday, and will ask council to temporarily
freeze rent increases, re-examine its renter protection laws and
propose better solutions.

“The two ordinances that just went into effect were designed
to give tenants more stability, and more protections when they are
forced to relocate,” Redwood City Mayor Ian Bain wrote in an
email. “Unfortunately, there are many other issues related to
rental housing in the Bay Area right now, and we are actively
looking at what else we can do to protect renters.”

The Freedonia residents also are hoping to call attention to the
nuisances they’ve experienced during ongoing construction at the
apartment buildings. Residents say they’ve endured the noise of
constant hammering and power tools, disruption to their heat and
hot water, broken windows and other problems for almost a year.

The landlord says it’s making necessary — and costly —
repairs and upgrades to the 90-year-old building.

When the rents go up, 31-year-old Devin Davis, who works as a
server at Buck’s Restaurant in Woodside, worries how he’ll
cope.

“I’m looking at moving out of California,” he said. “I
can’t afford this state.”

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His across-the-hall neighbor, Stasha Powell, worries she’ll
become homeless. But the 44-year-old, who suffers from a rare
connective tissue disorder and gets by on disability benefits,
remains optimistic that Monday’s rally will sway hearts in City
Hall.

“We have to have hope. I mean, that’s all we can really
do,” she said. “We have to have hope that they’ll help
us.”

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Renter protections failed these Bay Area tenants: Now they’re demanding change