City Council Looks Toward Tenant Protections

Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Libby Leyden
Half Moon Bay Review

In a one-sided debate during a Half Moon Bay City Council meeting devoted to tenant protections, council members determined they need more research and data before taking action.

At the Jan. 15 city council meeting, a draft ordinance to enact residential tenant protection measures was submitted for feedback from the public and council members. In attendance were several landlords, property owners and real estate agents, many wearing bright neon stickers stating, “No Rent Control” and “Save the Dream.” Critical stakeholders — renters living on the Coastside — were missing from the discussion.

“I think outreach is going to be extremely important,” said Mayor Harvey Rarback during last week’s city council meeting. “We’ve heard from the landlord community, but I’d also like to hear from the renters.”

The ordinance outlined four components available to the city to set up more tenant protections: minimum lease terms, enhanced notification before ending a tenancy, relocation assistance, and mediation between landlord and tenant.

In 2018, Half Moon Bay City Council hosted several “listening sessions” to hear residents’ concerns about housing issues. As a result of those discussions, city council expressed an interest in exploring options to find ways to help those dealing with housing insecurity, according to Jill Ekas, director of Community Development.

“Council has not definitely concluded that tenant protection measures are necessary or appropriate,” Ekas said. “They are still exploring options.”

Ekas clarified the difference between “rent control” and the drafted ordinance she called “tenant protection” measures.

“Tenant protection measures address housing insecurity in other ways, primarily by giving tenants more time and resources to find a new rental at the end of a tenancy,” Ekas said. “Rent control caps the amount of a rent increase the landlord is allowed to implement.”

The ordinance Ekas co-authored with Deputy City Attorney Sara Clark represented the first time council members had seen such tenant protection concerns on an agenda.

Despite efforts by city staff to distinguish the ordinance as tenant protections, members of the public who addressed the council saw them as rent control, and many were vehemently opposed.

“Let’s be careful what we are doing here,” Half Moon Bay resident Jim Sutro said during public comment. “I depend on tenants, but what are you doing to protect me?”

While a variety of small and commercial landlords spoke in opposition to the ordinance, Rarback noted an absence of the tenant and rental community in the audience.

“We need more information and more outreach to other parts of the community,” Rarback said. He suggested holding a series of workshops with both the landlord and rental communities to hear from all sides concerned with the issue.“It pays for us to be prudent,” council member Debbie Ruddock said. “We need local control and something that works for our community.”

All five council members agreed on the need for data on the rental landscape of the area. Ekas stated she and city staff are working on an outreach plan and will check in with the City Council as research progresses.

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