The Half Moon Bay City Council directed city staff to move forward with three renter protection measures about six months after the topic was last discussed, and it also provided direction as to how the city’s affordable housing fund should be allocated at a meeting Tuesday. 

The three renter protections that the council is poised to approve include minimum lease terms, enhanced notice and city-sponsored mediation between landlords and tenants.   

The enhanced notice rule would require a landlord to provide 90 days or notice rather than 30 days of notice for an eviction and the minimum lease term provision would require a landlord to offer a lease spanning at least one year. A landlord would not be able to increase rent during the one-year lease period, but could charge whatever he or she wants after that lease expires. If the tenant doesn’t want a one-year lease then they can negotiate another deal, but the landlord must make the offer. 

The council is also interested in a relocation assistance ordinance that would require landlords in certain circumstances to pay evicted tenants three times the market rate rent or three times the tenant’s current rent  — whichever is greater — to cover the financial challenge of securing new housing.

Councilmembers have expressed concerns that such a requirement could be burdensome for “mom-and-pop” landlords who operate on thin margins, but a majority of them nonetheless expressed support for it after resident Ruby Salazar urged them to do so during the meeting.

“In the staff report the only reasoning I saw for why council shouldn’t adopt the [relocation assistance] is mom-and-pop landlords consist of smaller developments with four or fewer developments. If this is the case then why not exclude these smaller developments of four or fewer units or add an amendment amount of relocation assistance that mom and pops can afford?” she asked, according to a video of the meeting. “Just because they operate by thin margins doesn’t mean it’s OK to displace people and not help notify and help with relocation assistance.”

Mayor Harvey Rarback, Councilwoman Deborah Penrose and Councilman Robert Brownstone all said they agree with Salazar. 

“I think relocation assistance makes sense, mostly to discourage people from rent gouging and if someone has four, six or 10 units I don’t think it would be an undue burden on them so I’m in favor of what Ruby had to say,” Rarback said, adding that all four renter protection measures should be restricted to landlords with four or more units.

His colleagues appeared interested in having the relocation assistance ordinance apply to larger developments than the other three measures, but a precise number has not been decided.

Rarback also wants rent caps to prevent what is referred to as an economic eviction, whereby rent is increased such that a tenant has no choice but to leave.

“The issue I have is relocation assistance is essentially meaningless without rent caps and I think those two things should be considered together,” he said.

Brownstone wants the length of time a landlord has owned a multi-unit building to be considered.

“I think there’s a time element in terms of how long a landlord has owned a multiple unit building because at some point their costs are fixed versus someone having just bought a building, their expense of that and their coverage of mortgage, etc. If a building is already paid off, I think the margins are different so maybe we can figure out what that would look like in Half Moon Bay.” 

The council ultimately agreed to table the relocation assistance ordinance for a later date after the other three renter protection measures receive a vote. They opted for the delay in part because Penrose requested data on landlords in the city and the number of units they own.

“If we’re going to put out three months rent for someone I need to know who I’m affecting,” Penrose said. 

The council also discussed the future of the city’s affordable housing fund during the meeting. The fund currently totals $2.5 million, including $400,000 that the council agreed to transfer from the general fund during the budget process. 

The council opted for an “over-the-counter” approach to spending the money, which City Manager Bob Nisbet described as the most flexible option. 

“That approach is almost one where it’s first come first serve and we will evaluate projects as they come in, back to that we’re open for business model,” he said. “The best way to spend the money is to come up with principles and direct us to start project by project, allowing us to let developers know that we have the ability, with direction of the council, to subsidize their projects, details to be determined later and we do it case by case.” 

Rarback said he specifically wants to see housing built for low-income and extremely low-income Half Moon Bay residents and Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock said affordable apartments generally appear to be the community’s preference.

“What I hear from a lot of people in town are apartments. I think apartments are going to be really important for us,” she said. “It’s part of our bigger vision that we want multi-generational community, we want young singles to be able to live here, young families and seniors. We want a diverse community and diverse housing stock. Right now we’re missing affordable apartments. To me, that’s the most glaring void in our housing mix.” 

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(1) comment

Cindy Cornell

Half Moon Bay is really listening and stepping up for tenants. One problem with the minimum lease, as we have seen in Redwood City, is that a landlord will offer a one-year lease as required, at an inflated amount, with a month-to-month being much cheaper. So the tenant winds up choosing the month-to-month and can be evicted without cause just a few months in. We have seen this happen. That needs to be amended as it has unintended consequences. Good job Half Moon Bay!

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