Hayward leans toward renters’ protections

After several years of incremental action to limit the rise of rents in Hayward, the City Council last week indicated a preference for enacting a number of rent protections, including binding arbitration to resolve rent increase disputes, an end to vacancy de-control, and possibly tenant relocation payments for renters forced out of their units.

Few times in recent years has the Hayward City Council’s majority shown such a progressive lean as with the support of last week’s menu of options for renters offered for city staff to study this spring.

But support was also somewhat tacit, particularly when it comes to binding arbitration. Some council members appeared on the fence when it comes to a program allowing a mediator to settle rent disputes between landlords and tenants and rendering binding resolutions.

The arrangement is loathed by landlords who, if they had a choice, prefer a non-binding set-up used in some East Bay cities, particularly through rent boards. Such a setting, tenant advocates say, maintains the inequity in power between landlords and renters. In addition, many renters are uncomfortable to challenge their landlords in a public setting. The binding arbitration set up is also prohibitively expensive program, likely necessitating fees per units for running the program, which are often passed down to landlords and renters.

“You guys take too long to take action. You don’t see as many people here today because they don’t live here no more. They got pushed out.”Hayward resident Eduardo Orozco

During a lengthy public comment period a number of landlords warned binding arbitration was no different from full control. If approved, Hayward landlords will take their units off the market, sell, and find ways to evade Section 8, said Bill Mulgrew, executive director of the landlords-backed Rental Housing Association of Southern Alameda County. “Don’t let the message be this is a good time to sell,” he said.

Instead, urged Les Fohl, a 42-year real estate broker in Hayward, eliminate the bad actors of both sides. “I would to say to the bad apple landlords and bad apple tenants, get the hell out of Hayward.”

But the warnings and threats lodged by landlords rankled Councilmember Elisa Marquez, who issued a broadside against them and the slow pace of the city toward giving protections to struggling Hayward residents. Marquez later backed a proposal for rent control. The current rent ordinance benefits landlords, said Marquez, “and they’ve been benefiting for decades.”

Landlords were hostile and rude, Marquez recounted from a recent stakeholders meeting. “I can’t even imagine how they treat tenants,” she said, before describing exasperation with a city that repeatedly touts receiving civic awards for its diversity, but does little to help the minority groups being hit hardest by rent increases. “I’m really tired of hearing that point,” said Marquez.

Only Marquez and Councilmember Aisha Wahab, gave support for rent control, the most rigorous option for regulating rent increases. Marquez, though, supports a carve out for properties with four units or less, so-called “mom and pop” landlords.

Rising rents in Hayward are hitting the working-class city harder than others, said Paola Laverde, a tenant who says she spends more than half of her monthly wages on rent. “We have more people who are homeless because they cannot afford the sky-rocketing rents.”

During a jam-packed hearing on rents Tuesday night that followed a lengthy and passionate public comment period on the shooting by Hayward Police of Agustin Gonsalez, Hayward resident Eduardo Orozco criticized the council for its inaction for alleviating the housing crisis. “You guys take too long to take action. You don’t see as many people here today because they don’t live here no more. They got pushed out.”

Hayward once had a modestly effective rent stabilization ordinance, but over the years landlords have been able to de-control these units simply by evicting tenants and indicating they would make improvements to the unit.

For example, $2,000 for a two-unit apartment triggers de-control of the unit. The number of units remaining under the rent stabilization ordinance is estimated to be about 1,600 in the entire city.

Late in hearing, during an exchange with Councilmember Wahab, Hayward Deputy City Manager Jennifer Ott said there is no clear way for tenants to know if they currently live in a rent controlled unit.

“I want us to stop turning a blind eye and do something for our average residents,” said Wahab. “Housing is a human right and we need to be supporting people over profit.”

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