East Palo Alto: Landlords Can Increase Rent by 2.4% Starting July 1

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Kevin Kelly
San Jose Mercury News

It's still the most affordable city for renters in Silicon Valley, but it will become less so this summer.

The city of East Palo Alto on Wednesday approved a 2.4 percent rent increase for residents in its 6-year-old rent control program.

The change goes into effect when the 2016-17 fiscal year begins July 1.

East Palo Alto has approved increases each of the past five years. The 2.4 percent jump is the highest yet.

Some tenants could see increases as high as 6.4 percent because landlords are allowed to "bank" up to three years of rent increases and apply them at the same time. The city allowed increases of 2 percent in each of the past two years.

This year's increase is based on 80 percent of the increase in the U.S. Consumer Price Index, which was up 3.016 percent in February over the previous year.

The move equates to an average monthly increase of $24.96 for renters in a city where rents are "about half" what they are elsewhere in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County, according to city documents. De-controlled units in the city rent for an average of $1,300 a month, and rent-controlled units go for 20 percent less, or $1,040, according to city documents.

The city's Rent Stabilization Ordinance, approved in 2010, applies to 2,500 rental units, according to city materials. The ordinance was adopted after Palo Alto-based Page Mill Properties raised rents twice in 2008, an increase of 16.7 percent at a time when it owned 1,800 units in the Woodland Park neighborhood.

Separate from the increases, renters can be charged a monthly "pass-through" fee of $9.75 by landlords. The fee amounts to half of what landlords are charged by the city to enroll in the stabilization program.

"It cannot be counted or referred to as rent, nor could a tenant be evicted for nonpayment of the pass-through fee," Kimberly Kriegh, a city rent stabilization counselor, said in an email.

The ordinance states that fees for "regulated housing services such as parking and utilities" count as rent, so increases to those services count as increases in rent. Pet charges are not counted as rent.

It's up to renters, not the city, to challenge a landlord's rent increase if they think it goes beyond limits. They can do so by petitioning the Rent Stabilization Board.

At its Tuesday meeting, City Council will consider counting the pass-through fee as part of rent and ending banking.

For more information on the ordinance, visit http://bit.ly/rentprogram.

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