Palo Alto offers more help to renters facing eviction
The property on Layne Court in Palo Alto where Councilmember Greer Stone rents. Housing advocates say the landlord, Spieker Companies, has been evicting tenants in Palo Alto to renovate buildings. Photo courtesy of Palo Alto Renters Association.

The Palo Alto City Council is expanding relocation assistance to include more renters, but the only long-time renting councilmember could not participate.

The council voted 5-1 Monday to pass an emergency ordinance requiring landlords of smaller residential buildings to pay relocation assistance to tenants during evictions. An existing law already requires the owners of buildings with 50 or more residences to pay between $7,000 and $17,000 to tenants subject to no-fault evictions. This represents less than a quarter of Palo Alto’s rental stock.

The new ordinance, which goes into effect immediately, would expand coverage to any building with 10 or more units, which would cover almost half of all rental properties in the city. Vice Mayor Lydia Kou unsuccessfully tried to lower the threshold to five units.

“I do not want to see less stability for a lot of our tenants in the city, just because they live in properties with a lower number of units,” she said, referencing eviction challenges tenants are facing at three properties on Layne Court.

Councilmember Greg Tanaka cast the lone opposing vote, saying the ordinance will harm smaller landlords.

“I think you assume the landlord has no expense, but there’s mortgages people have,” Tanaka said. “ There’s maintenance that has to be done… it’s not zero cost.”

One councilmember, Greer Stone, is a tenant at one of the properties at Layne Court. Stone recused himself from the hearing and the vote.

Stone rents an apartment in a Spieker Companies, Inc. building; the company owns numerous properties in Palo Alto.

Richard “Tod” Spieker, owner of Spieker Companies, has more than 200 rental properties—totaling several thousand units—across Santa Clara County. Spieker did not respond to a request for comment.

Facing eviction

The expanded relocation assistance comes at a time when housing advocates are documenting an increase in evictions across the city. Angie Evans, co-founder of the Palo Alto Renters Association, told San José Spotlight her organization has received at least one call every week for the past two months from a tenant facing eviction.

“We still saw evictions during the moratorium, but not at this rate,” Evans said. None of the dozens of cases reviewed by her organization have resulted in evictions filed through the courts, which are known as unlawful detainers. This means there is no record of them in the court system and they are largely invisible to the public.

Hundreds of eviction cases have been filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court since the statewide moratorium on evictions ended last September. There are 21,577 households in the county that have applied for more than $306 million in assistance funding—300 of those applications came from Palo Alto. People facing eviction for non-payment can apply for rental assistance and remain in their homes, at least until this protection ends on March 31.

Tenants facing other types of no-fault eviction are not protected. Evans noted most of the people who contact her organization have been kicked out of their buildings by landlords who want to renovate. She noted a Palo Alto teacher for Greene Middle School was recently kicked out of his home after his landlord decided to perform renovations.

Samara Meir-Levi is another resident who received one of these no-fault eviction notices. Meir-Levi told San José Spotlight her former landlord, Spieker Companies, Inc., notified her last August that it wanted to renovate the building and asked her to voluntarily vacate her apartment.

Meir-Levi didn’t want to leave the apartment. She enrolled her daughter in a Palo Alto preschool and qualifies for financial aid as a city resident. Meir-Levi, who is unemployed, worried if she moved she wouldn’t be able to find another affordable apartment within the city. When Meir-Levi pushed back against the voluntary move, the company told her the amount of relocation assistance being offered depended on her level of cooperation.

Meir-Levi asked the company to pay the difference she would be forced to pay at her daughter’s preschool as a non-Palo Alto resident. She said the company turned her down, served a 60-day notice to leave the building and offered her relocation support equivalent to one month of rent.

“It just turned into such a horrible experience,” said Meir-Levi, who now lives in Mountain View. “I get they’re a business and they want to earn money. But I don’t agree with those priorities.”

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter. 

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