By Caroline Peattie, of Mill Valley, is executive director of San Rafael-based Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.
The Marin Board of Supervisors is scheduled Tuesday to consider a “just cause for eviction” ordinance that would require a landlord to state a legitimate reason for terminating a renter’s tenancy.
Most people know that Marin renters face a housing crisis, given the scarcity of housing combined with unaffordable rental prices. Renters are vulnerable, and unlike homeowners, even if they pay their bills on time and maintain the property they live in, they can be given notice to move with no reason at all. Worse, if a landlord is evicting tenants for a discriminatory reason or in retaliation – both of which are illegal – the burden is on the tenant to prove it, something that can be difficult, if not impossible, to do.
We want our children to attend school without disruption, for seniors to have continuity of care and support, and people who provide
important services in Marin to have stability in their housing. And housing instability disproportionately affects the most vulnerable members of our community — families with children, people of color, and individuals with disabilities, many of whom are seniors.
Marin County, already lacking in diversity, risks continuing to lose ground. (See, for example, Advancement Project’s “Race Counts” at racecounts.org/county/marin, which identified Marin County as the most racially disparate county in the state, or KQED’s 2017 podcast and article, “Why is Marin County So White?”
Marin County has passed other ordinances protecting tenants through its mandatory rent mediation program and its ordinance prohibiting discrimination against those with housing subsidies. But rent mediation without just cause for eviction does not truly protect renters, as property owners who want to raise rent without mediation can simply serve a no-cause notice to vacate.
FHANC Supervising Attorney Casey Epp talks to KPFA about a recent national origin housing discrimination complaint that was recently settled.
FHANC Supervising Attorney Casey Epp talks to KPFA about a recent national origin housing discrimination complaint that was recently settled. Interview begins at 54:27.
A Latino family who was rejected for a two-bedroom apartment in San Rafael reached a settlement in a discrimination complaint against the landlord.
The complainants are Adan Bernardino Peralta, his wife and two children. They were represented by San Rafael-based Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.
They filed the complaint against the Continuum Housing Association-San Rafael Redevelopment Agency. The apartment in question was at the Lone Palm Court building at 840 C St.
The settlement was reached late last month. Continuum Housing Association agreed to pay $18,000 to the complainants; attend two annual fair housing training sessions; list the rental property with San Rafael-based Canal Alliance and tacolist.com; post U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s fair housing posters in English and Spanish; and send HUD’s fair housing brochures in English and Spanish to all residents.
Caroline Peattie, executive director of San Rafael-based Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California. (James Cacciatore/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)“We are pleased that Continuum Housing Associates agreed to mediate so we could arrive at a settlement,” said Caroline Peattie, executive director of Fair Housing Advocates, in a released statement. “Mr. Peralta was able to have a forum where he could speak about his experience and the injury he had suffered and feel that he was heard.”
Peattie said the settlement was the result of an administrative complaint filed in August with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing after a months long investigation by Fair Housing Advocates. It looked into the circumstances surrounding Peralta’s unsuccessful application for a two-bedroom apartment at Lone Palm Court in August 2017.
Peralta, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mexico, said in the complaint that the Lone Palm Court manager at first took his application, but then later returned it and the money order for the application fee. The manager told Peralta that the reason for the return was that Peralta’s wife, who was born in Colombia but who was a U.S. resident with a valid tourist visa, did not submit U.S.-based identification.
Caroline Peattie, executive director of the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, urges the San Rafael City Council to adopt a rental discrimination ordinance during the council’s Monday evening meeting at City Hall in San Rafael, Calif. on Oct. 1, 2018. Peattie was one of 10 public speakers who advocated for the ordinance, which would prohibit renters from disqualifying prospective renters based solely on the fact that they use a Section 8 housing voucher. (Will Houston/Marin Independent Journal)
San Rafael may join other Marin County communities in prohibiting landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants who use Section 8 housing vouchers.
The City Council met Monday to provide feedback to staff and hear input from the public as the city works to develop an ordinance based on similar fair housing rules passed in Fairfax, Novato and by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.
The council could have taken up the ordinance for a public hearing as soon as Oct. 15, but instead directed staff to bring back more information.
Marin County supervisors Tuesday opted to take no position on perhaps the most controversial state initiative on November’s ballot, Proposition 10, which would repeal a law that severely restricts the scope of rent control in California.
Without any discussion on the initiative, the supervisors voted unanimously to take a “neutral” position on jettisoning the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors there voted unanimously to support a resolution supporting Proposition 10.
Signed into law in 1995 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, Costa-Hawkins prohibits cities from establishing rent control on units built after February 1995, protects landlords’ right to raise the rent to market rates once a tenant moves out and exempts single-family homes and condominiums from rent control.
Agustin Maxemin fears nobody will want to build affordable housing in Mill Valley. Though reviews were mixed Tuesday when the developer presented his design concepts for a vacant lot along one of Mill Valley’s main corridors, Maxemin said he didn’t get a clear indication that the city’s Planning Commission was willing to work with him on his vision for 500 Miller Ave. He’s had enough of the headache, he said. “Are they serious about having affordable housing in the city?” he said. “Are they really serious?”
Maxemin said Wednesday he’s already scrapped the designs he pitched this week. Rather than continuing to refine a plan that incorporates higher-density housing and affordable units, Maxemin said he’s giving his crew the green light to build the project that was already approved for the property when he purchased it last year, which has far fewer dwellings. The clock, after all, is ticking, the developer said. Construction crews soon after the lot changed hands began building a retaining wall — which has been widely scrutinized for its aesthetic impact — on the site in preparation for the design approved by planning commissioners in 2010. That project calls for mixed retail and office space in addition to nine condominium units, none of which are designated for affordability. “The Planning Commission went off on the intent of my project,” Maxemin said. “I don’t want to go back to them anymore. They are just completely in many directions.”
Commissioners suggested the developer create a new design that scales back the size of the building and the homes within it. Some said they liked Maxemin’s effort to create a higher-density project, but that the units were too large. The city’s housing element requires variation in home size. Maxemin said the project wouldn’t be financially feasible with smaller units. The larger ones, he said, subsidize those designated for affordable housing.
Jim McCann, Mill Valley’s city manager, said the Planning Commission wasn’t discouraging density, but was maintaining the city’s building guidelines. “I know that’s not exactly consistent with the hopes that Agustin and his group had,” he said. “Their plans reflect a different approach. That doesn’t mean there’s any opposition to the project, it just means he has a different concept.” Maxemin presented renderings Tuesday that depicted his latest designs for the 1.2-acre site, which is zoned for mixed commercial and residential use. His presentation came during an informal study session, where community members were invited to weigh in on the proposals and planning commissioners had the chance to give the developer initial feedback prior to taking any action on the project.
One sketch showed a 28-unit condominium complex next to about 4,000 square-ft. of office and retail space. Another — which Maxemin said was created as a compromise after hearing community concerns that 28 units were too many — depicted 19 condominiums and almost 4,500 square-ft. of commercial space. In addition to an elevator-propelled stacked parking garage, a waterfall and a prominently-featured Greek time-telling device — a clepsydra, which uses water flow to measure the passage of time — both proposals included designating a portion of the units for affordable housing.
Feedback from community members who attended the Tuesday night study session was varied. Richard Owens, a Mill Valley resident, said he didn’t like the design, and was already put off by the bare retaining wall that’s under construction on the property. “I don’t know how this thing got to where it is right now, but it is horrendous what you’re looking at there,” Owens said. “And now we’re basically saying, ‘Well, it’s so ugly we have to cover it up with something. And what we’re going to cover it up with is not something we started with, but we need something bigger to cover up something truly ugly.'”
Aaron Eckhouse, on the other hand, touted the project as a way to fight back against the statewide housing crisis. “This is a tremendous opportunity to add affordable housing here. … Either of these (design) options provide tremendous opportunity for some people to take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities living in Mill Valley can provide,” he said. “The alternative, if you reject either of these, would include no affordable housing and fewer homes, and that will worsen the regional and state housing crisis.”
Maxemin said when he purchased the property from Al Von der Werth last year for $2.9 million he intended to build the nine-unit, 32,000 square-ft. project that had already been approved for the site. But in his conversations with potential architects for the project, Maxemin said he was urged to consider a more modern design. Many aspects of the original plan needed to be updated to comply with city building code, he said. The developer met with city officials to discuss the process of revisiting the site plans, and learned that any new design would have to comply with the city’s affordable housing ordinance adopted last year. The developer said city officials told him a new plan would have to accommodate more units and include affordable housing in order to comply with the new rules.
A Mill Valley resident, Maxemin said he jumped at what he thought was a chance to make a positive impact on his community. McCann said city staff encouraged the developer to include smaller units and dwellings designated for affordability in a new design. “The city has been a strong advocate for housing, and particularly for affordable housing,” he said. “We’ve adopted very aggressive standards and we have very clear development guidelines to help property owners and developers put together a winning project. In this case, I think everybody who’s been involved has been very encouraging. We’d love to see a project with more dwelling units and more affordable housing at that site.” Maxemin said he’s received mixed input from community members ever since he announced the proposal for more units this summer. He wasn’t too concerned by the negative community responses he received Tuesday night, he said. “That’s normal,” he said. “You have to expect that. I’m willing to deal with that.” But he’s now concerned his attempt at affordable and higher-density housing — which, at this point, he considers to have failed, he said — could set a precedent for future developments in Mill Valley. The 500 Miller Ave. project is the first major subdivision proposed since the city adopted new housing laws last year, which require developers building projects with more than four units reserve at least 25 percent of those dwellings for low-income buyers — an effort to comply with new California housing regulations and combat the statewide housing crisis. “This is going to be very discouraging for developers,” Maxemin said Wednesday. “Mill Valley says they really want affordable housing, but the way it was yesterday, it seems like, wow, you really don’t want it anymore.”
Caroline Peattie, executive director of the Marin-based Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, said affordable housing is vital for Marin. “Our county is so lacking in diversity that it’s held up as an example of how non-diverse a county can be,” she said. “There’s no diversity not only in terms of economics, but also when looking across racial and ethnic lines. We know that when you don’t have affordable housing, it has the greatest impact on people of color, people with disabilities and people with children. When you take away opportunities for affordable housing, you are basically taking away opportunities for diversity.”
By RICHARD HALSTEAD Marin Independent Journal
Marin County will soon be implementing a “just cause” housing ordinance designed to prevent landlords from evicting tenants without a good or just cause. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed county staff to prepare optional forms of the ordinance for consideration at an upcoming meeting. The three supervisors backing the creation of the ordinance said they intend to exempt small mom-and-pop landlords who rent only three or four housing units.
That decision came after a nearly three-hour evening session attended by about 200 people at the Civic Center in San Rafael. Two of the five supervisors — Damon Connolly and Judy Arnold — dissented. Both Connolly and Arnold said they need to see more data to convince them such an ordinance is necessary.
Just-cause ordinances do not prevent landlords from evicting tenants for valid reasons such as failure to pay rent, breach of the lease or criminal activity. They also allow landlords to evict if they or a family member want to move in, or they want to substantially rehabilitate the unit or convert it into a condominium.
Housing advocates have been calling for the board to adopt a just-cause ordinance for some time. The board began discussing just cause in 2015 but had previously resisted the idea. Instead, county supervisors passed a law prohibiting landlords from discriminating against people using Section 8 housing vouchers and funded a new program to incentivize more landlords to rent to people using housing vouchers.
The supervisors also adopted a mandatory mediation ordinance requiring landlords to enter into mediation with tenants if they increase rents more than 5 percent within a 12-month period. That ordinance became effective in January. Housing advocates, however, said tenants are unlikely to seek mediation without a just-cause ordinance to protect them from eviction.
By Teresa Mathew
Point Reyes Light
As her rent skyrockets and her neighbors face eviction, Louise Gilbert fears the trajectory she sees for herself as a renter in San Anselmo. “I’m rooted here and want to remain here. If I would have to move elsewhere, I don’t know what I would do,” she said during a workshop on Tuesday, when the Board of Supervisors explored the idea of a just-cause ordinance. After three hours, the board voted to direct staff to draft an ordinance.
Yet many landlords protested the idea on Tuesday, saying a policy that makes it more difficult to evict tenants would in turn lead to more stringent background checks and a decrease in the housing supply if property owners opt for short-term rentals instead.
Just-cause policies are designed to ensure that landlords present a reason for evicting tenants. They eliminate no-cause evictions, in which landlords can simply serve a notice to vacate without stating a cause. Should a tenant fail to pay rent, violate the terms of a lease or engage in criminal activity, for example, landlords may evict them. No-fault evictions, in which tenants are asked to leave for reasons beyond their control, such as when a landlord moves into the unit, are also untouched by just-cause policies.
Just-cause eviction ordinance is needed
Marin renters face a housing crisis: rental housing is scarce, rents are rising and renters are vulnerable. Renters do not enjoy the same security that any homeowner enjoys — knowing that if the bills are paid and the property is maintained, they can continue to stay in their home.
That stability allows children to attend school without disruption, seniors to have continuity of care and support, and people from all walks of life to contribute daily to Marin’s quality of life. And housing instability disproportionately affects families with children, people of color and individuals with disabilities (many of whom are seniors). Marin, already lacking in diversity, risks continuing to lose ground.
Marin County has made great strides toward protecting tenants through its mandatory rent mediation program and its ordinance prohibiting discrimination against those with housing subsidies. But rent mediation without just cause for eviction (i.e., having to state a reason for evicting a tenant) is empty protection. Without just cause, property owners who want to raise rent without mediation can do so easily, by serving a no-cause notice to vacate. Discrimination and retaliation, both illegal, are difficult for tenants to prove. In Legal Aid of Marin’s experience, up to half of tenants facing eviction are asked to move for no stated reason.
On Sept. 11, Marin County’s supervisors should take action to protect renters by directing staff to draft a strong just-cause ordinance, and give all Marin’s seniors, families, workers and residents a fair chance at stable housing.
— Caroline Peattie, Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California
— Stephanie Haffner, Legal Aid of Marin
By ADRIAN RODRIGUEZ | firstname.lastname@example.org | Marin Independent Journal
Novato landlords will soon be prohibited from turning away prospective tenants who use Section 8 housing vouchers when a new ordinance becomes law.
After making minor changes, the Novato City Council this week voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance on its first reading, following guidelines set by county officials. A second reading and final vote is scheduled for Sept. 11. If it passes then, the anti-bias housing rule becomes effective in 30 days.
Councilwoman Denise Athas thanked city staff and others who worked to bring the ordinance forward. “It’s such an important item and I think whatever we end up with, the fact that we get it passed is what’s really crucial,” Athas said.
Marin’s Board of Supervisors approved its fair housing ordinance — which forbids landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants with Section 8 or other rental assistance vouchers — in November 2016. Supervisors at the time said they hoped other local municipalities would follow suit adopting similar regulations, in part so that any confusion for renters or landlords could be avoided about where, exactly, the rules apply.
The Novato City Council considered a version of that ordinance in May, but ultimately held off on a decision, considering that there were concerns the regulations didn’t state clearly enough that they applied only to rental housing. At the May meeting, a representative of Nova-Ro, a nonprofit based out of Novato that provides housing to low-income seniors, told the council he was afraid the fair housing ordinance could get in the way of a requirement his organization places on its clients that ensures operations run smoothly. Prospective tenants who apply to live in Nova-Ro’s units have to prove family members or other caretakers live within reasonable distances to the organization’s housing complexes, and can be available to help out during personal emergencies.
In July, the city held a community workshop to discuss options. Bob Brown, Novato’s community development director, said staff reviewed the ordinance that the Fairfax Town Council greenlighted earlier this year. The version of the ordinance presented Tuesday attempted to address all council members’ and landlord concerns, he said. “So with that, I hope we’ve hit the mark this time around,” Brown said.
With regard to a section of the ordinance that deals with civil liability and what the courts can award to a person who is discriminated against, Councilwoman Pat Eklund asked if the Novato ordinance could match exactly the wording of the Fairfax ordinance. Assistant City Attorney Veronica Nebb and City Manager Regan Candelario confirmed that the edit would be acceptable. After Athas made a motion, Eklund added the amendment, and it passed 5-0.
While fair housing advocates applauded the city for taking on the issue, many voiced concerns that they would like to see more consistency in rules adopted by Marin jurisdictions.
David Levin, managing attorney at Legal Aid Marin, said that he serves a client who uses Section 8 housing vouchers, and she was denied housing by an apartment complex that was on the wrong side of the street, just outside the county’s jurisdiction. “The county’s ordinance applied on one side of the street,” he said. “So any opportunity to make the laws uniform across Marin really helps.” He added that after searching homes for rent in Novato, he found six listings that said no Section 8. “The discrimination issue here is very serious,” Levin said.
Caroline Peattie, executive director of Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California said another issue is that the ordinance allows landlords to require that a tenant has a cosigner or guarantor who is a blood relative and within a one-hour drive of the residence. “I think that creates barriers to housing opportunities for people of color and individuals with disabilities and people who don’t have local connections, even if they qualify by income or age,” which goes against the purpose of the ordinance, Peattie said. “So there is a little bit of contradictory language within the ordinance.”
Novato resident Peter Mendoza, who uses a wheelchair and once benefited from the Section 8 housing program, called it a wonderful program and said seniors and people with disabilities often struggle to find housing. Mendoza urged the council to remove language that would allow landlords to require a cosigner to rent. “I think it’s important to remember, many people with disabilities and seniors don’t have families that can cosign, or may not have families at all,” Mendoza said. “I really think that if that is kept in, you’re making it difficult for a lot of people who would otherwise benefit from the program in Novato with the ordinance.”
Officials in San Rafael said the City Council is poised to adopt its own fair housing rules at its Oct. 1 meeting.