More than 50 people rallied in front of San Rafael City Hall on Monday demanding city officials adopt tighter renter protections as a planned 65 percent rent increase in the Canal area threatens to displace many long-term tenants.
The rent hikes were sent to residents by the new landlord of a 28-unit apartment complex on Dec. 1. Many residents received notices that their rent would increase by $900 or more, effective Feb. 1.
“In my case, my family is paying $2,200 for a studio apartment,” said Walter De Leon, a 12-year tenant who lives with his wife and two teen children. “We are being asked now to pay $3,100. We will need to use the money we have worked hard for to save for our kids to go to college. There are other families who are in an even more serious situation.”
De Leon was interpreted by Aisha Rodriguez, a 22-year-old who also lives with her brother and parents in a one-bedroom apartment in the same complex. He and other tenants said that they are contributing members of the community and that their jobs, children’s schools, their families and friends are in San Rafael, and they can’t afford to move.
Attorney Jonathan Black, representing the owner, 150 Belvedere LLC, did not respond to requests for comment. The Vallejo-based ownership group, 150 Belvedere LLC, purchased the property on Nov. 8, according to the Marin County Assessor’s Office.
At the Monday night rally before the City Council meeting, tenants and their supporters held signs with messages that read “Renters Rights Right Now,” and “Food or rent? Not a fair choice!”
Lilia Aban said she works as a cashier at a car wash to support her 9-year-old son. She is paying $1,280 for a studio. Her rent will rise to $2,200.
“If they’re not helping us to reduce the rent, at least we are hoping to ask them for six more months so we can have a chance to seek another apartment,” she said. Her words were translated by Montserrat Levi, a Novato resident and member of the Marin Organizing Committee that was supporting the cause.
Meredith Parnell, an MOC leader, said this rent hike comes on the heels of another incident in August in which tenants of a 40-unit complex in the same neighborhood received notice that their rent was shooting up by 40 percent. In that case, the landlord said they needed to make tenant improvements.
Parnell said MOC is asking the San Rafael council to follow the county Board of Supervisors’ lead and adopt a just cause for eviction ordinance, which mandates that landlords provide a valid reason for eviction from an approved list of just causes.
MOC is also imploring San Rafael leaders to adopt a mandatory mediation program, which entitles tenants to a county-mediated meeting with their landlord if rent is raised more than 5 percent in a year, Parnell said.
The rally moved to the council chambers just before the City Council meeting began.
During public comment, Aisha Rodriguez approached the council to translate for her father, Boris Rodriguez, a pastor at Victory Christian Center Church in San Rafael, and a resident of the building.
Boris Rodriguez asked the tenants in attendance and their supporters to stand before the council.
He said, “We’re here because there is an emergency here in San Rafael.
“We are the second group this year who has confronted this situation and there are countless other families who choose to stay in the shadows instead of speaking up,” he said. “It’s extremely urgent to discuss protecting renters because landlords are raising rents to levels that make it impossible for families to live here.”
The council Monday night approved on a second reading a fair housing ordinance that prohibits landlords from discriminating against potential tenants who receive housing subsidies, such as Section 8 vouchers.
After the meeting, Mayor Gary Phillips said the city staff is working on several renter protection efforts, including a just cause for eviction ordinance and mandatory mediation. He said he expects the council to address the issue in the coming months.
“It’s quite unfortunate that we have such increases that are forcing people out,” he said. “That’s hard on anyone, and we hate to see that occur in San Rafael.”