An ordinance aimed at protecting tenants living in unsafe or substandard housing conditions was unanimously approved by the San Mateo City Council Monday — the seventh public hearing on the proposed rules. 

“We have not taken this lightly, clearly you can see be the number of meetings we’ve had, the number of hours we and staff have spent on this it has not been easy to get to this place. It’s a compromise,” said Councilman Rick Bonilla. “The council recognizes that there’s a vulnerable population who had had some difficulties and, being responsible for the health, safety and welfare of all residents of San Mateo, we found a way to bridge that gap somehow.” 

Modeled after the red tag ordinance adopted by the county, the new rules require property owners to pay relocation benefits to tenants who’ve been displaced due to the city’s code enforcement actions.   

For permanent displacement, payments would be three times the monthly fair market rent as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plus $1,000 for moving costs. The current free-market rate for a one-bedroom in San Mateo County is $2,561 a month. Multiply that number by 3 and add in the $1,000 for moving costs and the total benefit comes out to $8,683. 

Relocation payments are due 10 days before the tenant has to relocate or immediately if the tenant needs to relocate sooner than that.

“So they have the money to use to actually move,” Bonilla said.

For temporary displacement, landlords will have to cover actual and reasonable moving costs, temporary housing accommodations such as a hotel less than the rent the tenant would have paid plus a living stipend if applicable. So if a tenant is displaced for three days and was paying $3,000 a month in rent, divide that number by the amount of days in the month, which comes out to $100 a day. If the hotel costs $200 a night, then the landlord will pay $100 to fill the gap. So the landlord is paying $100 times three days plus moving costs. 

The living stipend applies if temporary housing is not comparable in size, condition or amenities and is not located within San Mateo city limits or in a jurisdiction that borders San Mateo.

The stipend is 50% of the current U.S. General Services Administration meals and incidentals per diem for San Mateo, per tenant household member, per day, not to exceed $1,000 per tenant household. The 2019 GSA meals and incidentals per diem is $66 so the living stipend would be $33 per tenant household member, per day, not to exceed $1,000 per tenant household. 

Representatives from the California Apartment Association and San Mateo County Association of Realtors appeared largely satisfied with the ordinance and expressed appreciation for the significant changes made along the way. They requested additional tweaks to several components of the new rules, including the timeline of the appeals process and limiting the definition of a tenant household to only those on the lease. The council did not implement those suggestions.

SAMCAR also declared its opposition to the private right of action clause, which affords a tenant household who believes the property owner has violated the city’s code the right to file for damages. That rule previously allowed any interested party to file but has since been limited to a tenant household. 

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