Posts

Fremont City Council balks at stronger renter protections, opts for ‘minor tweaks’ to rent review law

Majority of council feels one-year old rent review program is doing well.

In the first year of Fremont’s rent review program, nearly half of those who sought help with rent increases saw them lowered, but some renters and city council members still don’t think the program goes far enough to help tenants.

The update on the program was presented by staff at the recent Fremont City Council meeting, where the council subsequently voted to make some minor tweaks to its rent review ordinance, but backed off of strengthening discrimination and retaliation protections for renters.

Councilwoman Jenny Kassan and Councilman Vinnie Bacon said they would have preferred to beef up those protections, and look at adopting rent control in the city, but the other five members of the council chose the status quo.

The city’s review ordinance is intended to help landlords and renters mediate disputes over rent increases. The council adopted the ordinance in fall 2017, and the program went into effect in 2018.

 

Read more at East Bay Times

 

 

Landlord-tenant relationships are changing, thanks to cryptocurrencies, Airbnb, and more

New challenges facing landlords in 2019.

This could be a great time to be a landlord.

The real-estate market still only has enough supply for half the population. We’re still seeing high divorce rates, so people need more places to live. And households are still being created faster than the housing supply. All that combined means higher rents and that trend looks likely to continue for a long time.

In fact, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, rising rates on 30-year mortgages — now firmly above 5% and on track to reach 5.8% by the end of the year — will help to drive rents higher in the coming year as more people get priced out of home buying by these higher interest rates. According to an analysis by Zillow, rent growth will pick up in 2019 as the Federal Reserve continues to raise rates.

For landlords, this is all very good news. And, given the evolution that the real-estate market has gone through over the last couple of decades — expanding to include short-term rentals, absentee owners, do-it-yourself property managers and more — the future looks bright for all involved.

Read more at MarketWatch 

 

Oakland may scrap owner-occupied rent control exemption

City Council will vote next month whether to allow rent control for owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes.

An exemption to the city’s rent control and tenant protection laws for owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes could get scrapped this year.

Currently, landlords who live in duplexes and triplexes and rent out the other units are exempt from rent control, as well as the tenant protection ordinance, which provides a procedure for tenants or the city attorney to sue landlords who harass them or fail to maintain the building.

Last week, city council members Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo introduced an ordinance that would remove the exemption. The ordinance will be presented at the Jan. 29 Community and Economic Development Committee, and the City Council is scheduled to vote on it the following Tuesday.

“The key here is we’re trying to make all of our rent laws consistent with each other and cover the same types of units,” Kalb said in an interview. “This is an effort to conform with Measure Y that was passed by voters last year.”

Measure Y removed the exemption from Oakland’s Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance for owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes. That ordinance prohibits landlords from evicting tenants without a legitimate reason.

When proposing the ballot measure, Kalb and Gallo noted that if it passed, they intended to introduce a parallel ordinance to remove the exemptions from rent control and tenant protection laws for owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes.

Kalb said he looked at other cities’ rent control laws and found that some had the exemption and some didn’t.

The ordinance is among the first tenants’ rights ordinances to be voted on by Oakland’s new City Council — three of the eight incumbent council members have been replaced. The new council members are Nikki Fortunato Bas, who represents District 2; Loren Taylor, who represents District 6; and Sheng Thao, who represents District 4.

 

 

Read more at the East Bay Times

 

 

Could anti-price gouging laws slow rising rents in California?

California lawmakers are exploring new ways to limit skyrocketing rents.

Crooning in the shower is not Chad Regeczi’s thing.

That’s why when he learned last year his monthly rent would go up $300 so the new owners of his La Mesa apartment in San Diego County could upgrade his bathroom with a sound system, he was bemused.

“300 bucks!” he said. “I mean an iPod costs less than that. Everybody has got a phone now. Who needs a Bluetooth speaker in a bathroom apartment? It’s just weird.”

Regeczi, a VA employee, said the 30 percent rent increase didn’t match the condition of his apartment. But he felt powerless to challenge his landlords on the hike.

“Who’s gonna tell them no?” he asked. “There are no rules to how much your rent can go up.”

That may change. Talk is underway about putting a law on the books that would bar California landlords from raising rent beyond a certain percentage.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in November the rule would mimic limits on what businesses can charge during natural disasters.

“When there’s a fire, you pass an anti-rent gouging ordinance,” Schaaf said. “The state has a fire. It’s called the housing crisis.”

Rents are surging in some California cities where there is no rent control by double, even triple digits, according to mayors and tenants rights advocates.

And more than half of the state’s renters pay more than a third of their income on housing, according to the California Budget & Policy Center. And a third of renters spend more than half of their paycheck on a place to live. The real estate firm Zillow reported last month that communities where people pay more than a third of their salary on rent, see a faster rise in homelessness.

 

Read more on East Bay Times

 

 

Oakland requires landlords to retrofit ‘soft-story’ buildings

Landlords have six years to retrofit the buildings, which are prone to substantial earthquake damage.

To prevent hundreds of multi-story, wood-frame apartment buildings from collapsing as they did in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Oakland is requiring seismic upgrades of all those at risk in the next big shaker.

There are 1,479 such “soft-story” apartment buildings in the city constructed before 1991 — when the building code changed — that stand two to seven stories tall and contain five or more apartments, according to a 2008 analysis by the city and the Association of Bay Area Governments.Those buildings are supported by slim columns with either garages or storefronts underneath, and contain a total of 24,273 apartments.

With fears of the “big one” occurring any day now along the Hayward fault — which runs along northeast Oakland and south along Interstate 580 — the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Dec. 14 making the seismic retrofitting of soft-story buildings with more than five units mandatory, giving landlords four to six years to get their buildings up to code.

“A major earthquake along the Hayward fault is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement released a week before the meeting. “As a city, we have a responsibility to put measures in place that will prevent injury and loss of life, and reduce displacement and recovery time in the aftermath of a major quake. This ordinance does all of those while also ensuring that we’re not placing an undue financial burden on property owners and tenants in our community.”

San Francisco passed a similar ordinance that went into effect in 2017; Berkeley and Fremont also require soft-story buildings to be seismically retrofitted. The Hayward council is scheduled to consider a similar measure in February.

In 2009, Oakland required soft-story building owners to gauge the potential earthquake damage that could occur. In the city’s 2015-2023 General Plan, officials called for the creation of a seismic safety retrofit program that would encourage retrofits through financial and procedural incentives.

Councilmember Dan Kalb — who introduced the ordinance — said city staff had been researching the risks of soft-story buildings and working toward the legislation for about four years. Though some California cities have required the buildings be retrofitted, others have not yet addressed the issue.

Seismic retrofits fall under the Oakland rent board’s definition of capital improvements, and thus up to 70 percent of the cost of may be passed on to the tenants. This ordinance requires that pass-through costs to tenants be dispersed over 25 years to prevent substantial rent hikes.

 

Read more on East Bay Times

 

 

San Jose moves toward ordinance limiting Section 8 discrimination

Landlords in San Jose would no longer be able to advertise that they don’t take rental vouchers.

San Jose took a step toward making it harder for landlords to turn away would-be tenants who use vouchers to help pay the rent.

This week, the San Jose City Council directed the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance aimed at giving renters with subsidies, commonly known as Section 8 vouchers, a fair chance on the private rental market. The so-called source of income ordinance would not force landlords to take the vouchers, but it would ban them from judging potential tenants who use subsidies differently from those who don’t and from explicitly advertising “No Section 8” on apartment listings.

If everything goes according to plan, the council will vote on the ordinance in the spring.

While a number of landlords blasted the proposal, saying it would force property owners to navigate convoluted regulations and paperwork, the city’s Housing Department said an ordinance is necessary to make sure families are able to find affordable housing.

Right now, there’s no law that prevents landlords from turning away voucher holders, and a city survey found most do, leaving low-income families scrambling to find homes in one of the nation’s tightest housing markets. Several national studies suggest that when cities and states have such ordinances in place, the percentage of landlords turning away voucher holders goes down and more people with vouchers are able to find places to rent.

“Voucher discrimination is happening in San Jose,” said Jacky Morales-Ferrand, the city’s housing director.

Several landlords told horror stories about Section 8 voucher holders who left rental units in bad shape. But tenants and tenant advocates countered that there’s no evidence voucher users are any better or worse than people who don’t use subsidies.

“We can’t judge the actions of a few and put it on the majority of the people,” said Robert Aguirre, who has used vouchers. “Not all Section 8 holders destroy property or disrespect the people around them.”

“We see clients all the time who are not able to rent housing, have to move away from San Jose, have to live in cars. … it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see that and this ordinance would help,” said Nadia Aziz, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.

 

 

Read more on East Bay Times

 

 

Oakland may require landlords to retrofit seismically unsafe apartments

Oakland may soon require hundreds of old apartments to be seismically retrofitted in an effort to prevent a mass collapse of buildings in the next big earthquake.

The retrofit rules would apply to soft-story residential buildings: multiunit, wood-frame structures with weak first stories built before 1991. An apartment with garage parking in the ground floor or street-level retail could fall into the targeted category.

Such buildings are prone to collapse during earthquakes, when the combined weight of shaken upper levels becomes too much for the vulnerable first story, as Loma Prieta proved in 1989 and Northridge in 1994.

“You look at photos of (San Francisco’s) Marina District after ’89 — quite a few buildings looked like three stories when they used to be four,” said Thor Matteson, a structural engineer of the Bay Area firm Quake Bracing.

Oakland is believed to have more than 24,000 housing units in 1,400 to 2,800 soft-story buildings, defined as those with at least five units and two to seven stories, according to city estimates. The first step of the ordinance proposed by City Councilman Dan Kalb and Mayor Libby Schaaf involves finding out which buildings must be retrofitted and which are exempt, such as those that have already completed the work.

Building types would be divided into three tiers, and each category would be on a different timetable. Owners would have four to six years to complete the retrofit work.

Read more on the San Francisco Chronicle

Why property owners should consider renting out to Section 8 households

Johnny Burks, who had a long career as a youth educator in Oakland, has straightforward advice for parents who want to set their children up to succeed.

“The best thing a parent can ever do for their children is give them a peaceful night’s sleep where they can dream,” Burks said.

But Burks, a former guidance counselor at Castlemont High School and the founder of Project Reconnect, a juvenile intervention program in Alameda County, understands that ensuring a peaceful night’s sleep is hard for parents who struggle to keep a roof over their heads.

The city of Oakland wants to give those families a break, but it needs help from people like Burks.

In January, Oakland began a program that gives financial incentives to landlords renting Section 8 apartments to low-income families, and Burks was one of 64 owners who joined the new program through June.

Burks is doing his part to curb displacement. He owns two four-unit buildings in East Oakland, and five of the eight apartments he owns now have Section 8 tenants.

Section 8, run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, gives housing vouchers to low-income families, the elderly, the disabled and veterans. The average annual income of a Section 8 tenant in Oakland is $19,370, which doesn’t go far in a city where the average rent for an apartment is $2,527, according to RentCafe, a real estate tracking website.

For many low-income Oakland residents, Section 8 is the last hope to stave off homelessness.

Section 8 landlords are the largest provider of affordable housing in Oakland, according to Mayor Libby Schaaf. But from 2012 to 2016, the number of landlords accepting Section 8 fell from 5,374 to 4,254, according to data from the Oakland Housing Authority, which administers the HUD program.

 

 

 

Read more on SF Gate

 

 

 

Oakland leaders declare Section 8 landlord incentive program a success

An incentive program aimed at bringing new landlords into the Section 8 low-income housing program — and keeping them around — has yielded positive results, with hundreds of new units added this year, Oakland city leaders announced today.

The three-tiered incentive program was launched by the Oakland Housing Authority in January. As of June 30, 75 new property owners had signed up to accept Section 8 housing vouchers.

“In just six months, 684 families have found stable, secure, affordable housing in Oakland. That is something to celebrate,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said at a press conference today.

Section 8, a federal program that provides rental assistance to qualifying low-income families, has been struggling in Oakland in recent years.

From 2015 to 2016, the Section 8 program shed more than 1,000 owners, according to Eric Johnson, executive director of the Oakland Housing Authority.

Since then, the program has been in “recovery mode,” he said, looking for ways to attract new owners.

“It can be a challenge to get to know us,” Johnson said. “We have lots of forms, and the first time through them is not easy.”

At a 2016 cabinet that discussed ideas to address Oakland’s housing and displacement crisis, city leaders identified incentives for Section 8 landlords as a priority.

 

 

Read more on Hoodline

 

 

Richmond vacant property tax headed to November ballot

Richmond voters in November will decide whether to tax vacant properties to pay for homelessness services, affordable housing and other things.

The vacant property tax measure was inspired by one in Oakland, which was approved for the November ballot a few weeks ago, said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. If Richmond voters pass the measure — it needs a two-thirds majority vote — a special parcel tax will be placed on vacant properties at the rate of $3,000 a year per vacant developed parcel and $6,000 a year per undeveloped parcel.

The tax would generate an estimated $5.4 million a year for the next 20 years, according to a report from Butt and Councilman Eduardo Martinez. That money will be earmarked for homelessness services, housing, blight, fighting illegal dumping and other specific programs.

There are 980 to 1,180 vacant parcels in the city and 250 vacant structures — most of which are abandoned homes, the report said. About 998 would be subject to the tax.

“In addition to creating a dedicated funding source, by taxing vacant properties, this measure will help encourage people to put those properties back into use, thus increasing the housing supply,” Martinez and Butt said in the report.

The measure passed unanimously at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Only one member of the public spoke on the measure; she was concerned that a vacant lot that she has owned since the 1980s and had turned into a garden would be taxed. City officials at the meeting said it would not be subject to the tax.

Property would be classified as vacant and subject to the tax if it is used less than 50 days a year. The tax would not apply to properties used as gardens or to host farmers markets, the report said.

A hardship exemption would be available to people who qualify as “very low-income” under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s guidelines. Very low-income is defined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development as households who make 50 percent of the area median income. For Richmond in 2018, a family of four with an income of less than $58,100 would be classified as very low-income.

Vacant property owners who can prove that specific circumstances prevent the use or development of the property are also eligible for an exemption. For example, if a natural disaster damaged the property, or if an undeveloped property was being used as a yard for an adjoining property, it would be exempt. If the measure passes in November, the City Council would include details of that exemption in a  separate ordinance, the report said.

 

 

Read more on East Bay Times