Half Moon Bay Renter Protections Put On Hold

Monday, January 21, 2019
Zachary Clark
San Mateo Daily Journal

After flirting with a handful of renter protection measures in November, the Half Moon Bay City Council decided to put them on the back burner because it wants to gather more data on renters and landlords in the city and it’s worried that such measures might bring unintended consequences.

“Personally I think we have bigger fish to fry than imposing something that I don’t think any of us fully understand the implications of yet, so I’d like to move this onto a way further time period down the line when we can get answers and continue to work on other pieces of legislation that we have coming up,” Councilman Adam Eisen said.

The council did express interest in pursuing one of the four proposed measures — city-sponsored mediation between landlords and tenants — as well as further research into renters’ insurance, though no timeline for a vote on those measures was provided at the Jan. 15 meeting.

The council’s discussion followed a parade of residents — Realtors and landlords mostly — who denounced the proposed measures during public comment. Many of them described the measures as forms of rent control and insisted that Half Moon Bay is home to a mostly mom-and-pop landlord community that would suffer if the proposed rules were adopted.

Community Development Director Jill Ekas suggested those speakers were at least correct that most of Half Moon Bay’s landlords run small operations.

“We suspect that most of our properties for rent are probably smaller,” she said. “The larger ones that were listed [by speakers earlier in the meeting] are all deed restricted affordable housing developments”

Moving forward, staff will be gathering data to confirm those suspicions and Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock said she would “not prioritize restrictions on mom-and-pops” and that “mom-and-pop” needs to be clearly defined.

Beyond mediation, the other proposed measures included minimum lease terms, enhanced notice provisions and relocation assistance.

Minimum lease terms in this case would’ve required landlords to offer a one-year lease to tenants. The landlord can still set prices and if the tenant doesn’t want a one-year lease then they can negotiate another deal, but the landlord must make the offer.

The enhanced notice provisions entailed a 90-day notice of termination of a month-to-month lease with some exceptions, and relocation assistance in this proposal would have required landlords to pay departing tenants three months worth of rent in certain circumstances — for example if rent was raised significantly, but not if the tenant simply chose to move.

Critics of those proposals claimed existing law offers sufficient protections for renters and that adopting additional protections would shrink the city’s housing stock.

“The vast majority of property owners make a very small margin and when you’re placing tremendous burdens on them you’re going to lose housing supply, it’s going to be gone,” said Gina Zari, government affairs director of the San Mateo County Association of Realtors. “In San Francisco, there are nearly 40,000 vacant units because of rent control and that will happen here too.”

Deputy City Attorney Sara Clark clarified at the beginning of the meeting that the proposals are merely renter protections and not rent control or rent stabilization, though the critics of those proposals did not see it that way.

“State law and the San Mateo County Association of Realtors and most people that are property owners understand that when you put a cap on rents and you say that amount will trigger relocation payments — that is rent control,” Zari said. “State law defines it as rent control, Costa-Hawkins defines it as rent control and we define it as rent control.”

Mayor Deborah Penrose noted the meeting’s strong showing of landlords and Realtors with almost no commentary from the renter community.

“The people who have been evicted or who were told their rent is going up 100 percent — they’re not here tonight so we’re hearing one side of the story. The other side of the story is extremely painful and that’s one part that I’m going to be considering as well as what everyone has said here tonight,” Penrose said. “Staff is working on compiling the information on the number of landlords and the types of units that the landlords own so we can be better informed about what the actual issues are. That will be critical in making any decisions.”

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