Op-Ed: San Jose Needs to Protect Tenants from Unfair Evictions

Last month, the Mercury News wrote about our father—92-year-old WWII veteran Paul Mayer—who was on the brink of eviction. Since that story by reporter Ramona Giwargis came out, we managed to postpone his eviction to July 1. But the attorney mediating his case has refused to keep him there any longer, despite the fact that the landlord, Peggy DiMaio, failed to file the required five-day eviction notice with the city of San Jose.

Despite the hardship our father has faced this past month, we have much to be grateful for. Our family has experienced an outpouring of kindness, compassion and generosity from strangers—not only locally, but from around the country. It was refreshing and inspiring to feel the hands of compassion reaching out to help our father and to know that there is still goodness in this world, despite this deplorable situation. Our father was overwhelmed with emotion as we read to him the many comments and emails forwarded to us. For that, we are grateful.

It was never our intent, when we shared our father’s story, to ask for or accept donations or any other gifts. Our dad will be well taken care of by his children, who also respect his strong desire to remain independent. Never mind the suggestion to the contrary by the DeMaio family, which threw out harsh words accusing my family of a lack of concern for our father’s well-being.

A recent editorial written by the Mercury News, “No law can help Paul Mayer, 92—but people can,” states that there is no law in place that can help our dad. While that is true right now, it doesn’t mean that we complacently accept this situation. We certainly do not. Our hope is that no other elderly person has to experience the sadness and disruption that our elderly father faces with his eviction. We are actively supporting a change to the current eviction law, which allows landlords to kick tenants out without any stated reason. What we need in San Jose is a “just cause” protection, which would prevent landlords form ousting renters unless they had good reason to do so.

We recently learned that the true motivation for Peggy DeMaio and her son, Anthony DeMaio, to evict our father was indisputable greed. Their cry for the need for “renovating the units” is hogwash. If renovating the units was a priority as a unit becomes available, they could have just moved him into a vacant unit and renovated the older unit as was done 25 years ago in our father’s building by the previous owner.

The truth is, they are evicting long term, lower paying tenants in rent controlled properties so that the DeMaio’s can then fill those very same vacancies with tenants who have subsidized housing vouchers—a guaranteed paycheck. Why? Because Section 8 tenants are exempt from rent control because they receive federal subsidies. That means the DeMaio’s can line their pockets with the higher rent, completely bypass current rent control protections and pocket additional bonuses from the VA.

Early on, before the mediation and before their scam was revealed, we reached out to the DeMaio’s to ask if our father could at least live out whatever time he has left in his unit. We even offered to pay market value rent to keep him there. We were denied.

But Peggy DeMaio seemed to take great pride in recently stating that what she was doing was for the good of the veterans she was housing. But in fact, she is evicting a 92-year-old veteran to fill the vacancy with another veteran who pays market rate with a subsidized voucher as part of program to house homeless vets. It’s hard to digest that our federal tax dollars helped to evict our dad, along with the other tenants, in order to fulfill the greed of the DeMaio’s.

It’s time to take action and demand just cause eviction laws to prevent this outrageous abuse of the law from happening again. If just cause evictions had been required already, this abuse would never have been allowed to happen.

During a face-to-face meeting, Councilman Chappie Jones said that he needs “more data” before deciding whether or not San Jose should adopt just cause protections. But the City Council doesn’t need “more data” to know that this is the right thing to do.

All the affidavits and paperwork that the city requires the landlords to fill out has proven ineffective. The city has created a major debacle that’s staring you straight in the face. For the council members to turn their heads to this outrageous and blatant abuse is intolerable. It’s time to take action.

To Mayor Sam Liccardo, we say this: You recently said on the news that “we are a city united in tackling difficult issues.” This blatant abuse of the law and  the enormous disruptions it causes to innocent, vulnerable citizens of your city is not only a “difficult issue” but should also be a “priority issue.”

There is an upcoming vote on just cause evictions taking place on April 18. We are looking to you, Mr. Mayor, and you, city council members, to do the right thing and stop this outrageous abuse by voting in favor of just cause eviction. With your help, we can put an end to the VA voucher scam.

Sincerely,

Robert Mayer and Anne Sherman

20 Comments

  1. Regardless of the issues with your father, being able to evict tenants is a safety issue for other tenants who live in the building, not a way to raise rents. It is, and has always been since the 1970s, against the rent control ordinance to evict a tenant and raise the rent on the unit with a new tenant. The right to invite someone to leave your property is in place to keep the other tenants safe, period. If you claim there is no crime, or criminals, or gangs in rent control properties, you are seriously mistaken. Given a property owner can not raise the rent anyway, evicting a tenant for any other reason is a money losing proposition. Removing a problem tenant is not good business, but it is the right thing to do for everyone else.

    The VASH-HUD program was pushed very hard by then First Lady Michelle Obama and our current Mayor, Mr Liccardo. At a meeting December 2, 2015 at the HUD offices on West Julian, the SJ housing director and the HUD administrator explicitly said this program was a way to get around the SJ Rent Control Ordinance and get higher rents while doing good. That was the intent of the program.

    It is understandable that you are upset about your father’s situation. However, you do not know all the details about the properties Ms DeMaio owns, what are the costs of renovation, how much she paid for the properties, the section 8 programs in place, or the rent control ordinance. You have no idea if Ms DeMaio is greedy or not. These properties cost in the millions and renovations are in the 100Ks. Expecting to pay $525 for any unit in San Jose should not be expected. And the way the ordinance works there is no way Ms DeMaio could accept more without setting herself up for a lawsuit. That is the law that is in place, please look it up if you don’t believe me, there is no way to make a deal and the city support it. Actually, they specifically say you can’t and for good reasons. The result is, no property owner can make deals with the tenant.

    Removing the right to evict tenants and replace them at the current rental rate, which is what the law states, is the most fair and safe thing to do for all of San Jose’s residents. Changing the ordinance will make tenants less safe.

    • There have been instances where property owners neglect to properly inspect, repair and or maintain black mold issues. This can result in tenant complaints to the property management and of ownership, regulatory agencies and at times not addressed appropriately or thoroughly, resulting in a tenant having to vacate, relocate to other housing because the property owner can begin a vendetta type attitude that would include inconvenient maintenance appointments, space invasion, unscheduled intrusions, a hostile or fearful environment. A tenant that experiences these issues is usually forced to move. A new tenant moves in and the vicious cycle begins again.
      I experienced trying to help a neighbor by providing pertinent information about a specific case location to the County and found that procedures and protocols didn’t seem to be in place to address the case properly. Things may have changed, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience feeling ignored after providing such insight that included details and photos. In problems related to livability quality, black mold or other health issues policies must be in place that detail expedient responses to tenants concerns.
      Ultimately a couple of years ago the neighbor I was helping had to move because conditions existed that included plumbing deficiencies, repairs being neglected, poor ventilation, building dry rot, and a hostile environment. A dysfunctional property manager and property owner situation seeming to only be concerned about monthly rents coming in.
      There were no regulatory teeth available to immediately respond, inspect thoroughly, document deficiencies, begin repairs and coordinate the appropriate availability of accommodations for tenants that may be significantly inconvenienced.
      This was a multiple unit apartment complex in a County Pocket within the City of San Jose and it
      The location probably had or has more than just one apartment with disrepair and mold issues.
      Allowing conditions like vthis to exist can be associated with greed and poor planning.

      • > In problems related to livability quality, black mold or other health issues policies must be in place that detail expedient responses to tenants concerns.

        Let me describe how I established policies to “detail expedient responses to tenants concerns”.

        I got out of the local rental property business and told tenants to complain to someone else. There are other rental markets where the tenants are much, much nicer.

      • Dear Citizen,

        I do not disagree with you regarding properties in disrepair. While I am not an apologist for Ms De Maio as I do not know her, she is in fact making the investments necessary to get her properties back on track. The other property which has given her notoriety, on Randolph, was acquired by her family in December and they started serious work on it in March. I know a bit about that property and the prior owner, and it was in very bad shape. I could not allow tenants in any building we own to live in those conditions. It is my understanding that the property in the above article is undergoing renovations and the prior owner may have allowed the property to fall into disrepair as well.

        No one wants to see 92 year old men or women have to go through this process. I have not seen his unit, but if it is anything like the Randolph property, in the end he is probably better off. The unit will get renovated along with the property on Randolph and two blights on the community will be removed. The city can claim innocence, but this is what they pushed for. It is not just the VASH-HUD, but the entire change to the rent ordinance that got Mr Mayer evicted.

        The series of events that have lead us to this point, however, have nothing to with the current eviction processes that are in place. As I said, the city and the government specifically asked property owners to take on homeless vets, with the incentive to remove the unit from rent control and with bonuses. To blame Ms De Maio for participating in the program and have the housing department and mayor turn their back on her says a lot. To attack property rights and make many tenants unsafe, is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

    • To Citizen in Exile

      Being able to evict tenants is sometimes a safety issue for landlords and other tenants but it is indeed also, all too often, a way to replace poorer tenants with those who can pay exorbitant market rate rents. Under San Jose’s present “no cause” eviction laws, landlords can evict tenants anytime and do not have to to mention the reason. These evictions are supposed to be reported to the city housing dept. by the landlord but less than an estimated 10% are ever reported. If the vacated unit has been under rent control (ARO) and the vacancy is considered voluntary, that unit can then be re-rented at market rate. In other cases, such as what happened to Mr. Mayer, a low paying tenant can be evicted with no cause in order to take in a tenant with a subsidy voucher like Section 8 or VASH-HUD. If the eviction is not reported and the evicted tenant doesn’t know enough to complain, the new tenant will pay out-of-pocket only one third of their income towards the new, usually market rate, rent and the government will pay the rest. Thus, the landlord will enjoy a huge rent increase while the former resident usually suffers terrible hardship. This is certainly an act of immense greed by a landlord and might be illegal.

      Another terrible but legal eviction that happens under the presently allowed ” no cause ” eviction rule is that, since the reason for the eviction might never be known, landlords can and do hide behind this legal permission to be silent in order to evict tenants for illegal, discriminatory reasons, such as for race, sexual preference, ethnic background, age, etc.

      The way to stop these types of greedy and illegal evictions is to enact an ordinance that forbids evictions, except for Just Causes, like willful trashing of a unit, not paying rent, being a nuisance to other tenants, etc. which would be spelled out in the ordinance. This is the only way to go that is fair to everyone!

      • Dear Advocate,

        Thank you for the note and the recognition that the ability to invite someone to leave is a safety issue, many advocates and city council members refuse to acknowledge this. To your other points, I think you respond for me in your post, but please permit me to discuss them.

        The current and past ARO states specifically you can not evict someone and then charge higher rent to the next tenant unless the prior tenant leaves voluntarily. If this is not being enforced, then address that with the housing department, not use it for a reason to push for new laws. To be clear, doing what you claim is happening is in fact, illegal. What happen in the case of Mr. Mayer, which I address in an earlier post, was a direct result of an incentive the city put in place to explicitly circumvent the ARO. It is impossible for me to know if this was their intention or just an error, but again it is not a reason to add more laws.

        Your second point, that property owners are inviting people to leave for “illegal, discriminatory reasons”. Discrimination is unfair, it has happened in the past and continues to happen no one will argue, but it is in fact already illegal. This is why there are Fair Housing laws with enforcement at the local, state, and federal level. Fair Housing is a wide network of laws designed to protect against discrimination throughout the entire rent cycle, screening to vacating. Project Sentinel does a great service here in Santa Clara and the DOJ has had some high profile cases in the past.

        Both the points you state already illegal or intentionally circumvented by the authorities, not the property owners. As you recognize that in your post. If current laws are not properly enforced, more laws will not fix that.

        As an advocate for fairness, I am sure you believe that laws should be fair to everyone. One notion of fairness is an expectation that both parties in the deal have to hold up equivalent commitments. What this new law hopes to achieve is that the property owner must, indefinitely, hold up her side of the bargain, while the tenant can walk away from the arrangement virtually at will. This, to me, seems unfair. In a month-to-month lease, for fairness, both sides must give at least 30 days notice. In one-year lease, both sides are required to fulfill a one-year commitment. This fairness symmetry has been a staple in housing for as long as I am aware. To be fair, this ordinance should require the same symmetry, if the landlord must commit to service the tenancy forever, the tenant must commit to staying in the unit forever. That is fair for everyone, I think you would find the rental property owner community more open to your proposal if what was being asked for was fair.

        The other issue is that of sanity of contract. Every lease in existence in San Jose has this fairness symmetry at its core. How is it fair, that after two parties have agreed on a basis of fairness, that the city later dictates a law to affect a great asymmetry of power, one weighted so unfairly toward the tenant?

      • First, I would not call evictions an ” invitation ” to leave but rather a demand to leave, since declining is not intended as an option.

        In my first reply to your post, I said that no cause evictions are ” sometimes ” done for safety reasons but all too often to get rid of tenants who can not pay the exorbitant market rents and replace them with those tenants who can. You are correct again when you state that, in a ARO unit ( a rental unit under rent control in San Jose), the above stated practice is illegal under ARO regulations. However, if the without cause eviction is unreported by the landlord to San Jose Housing (It is also illegal not to report such evictions) , the eviction may well go unnoticed, thus making it appear that the unit was vacated voluntarily which, under state law, then allows a landlord to to raise the rent in an ARO unit to current market rate. Please note that in the Mayer case, the Di Maio’s did not notify the city of Mr. Mayor’s no cause eviction. Current estimates are that less than 10% of no cause evictions are reported. While this condition is indeed partially due to weak enforcement of the reporting regulations, the blatant violation of the reporting requirement is certainly a function of landlord greed. The institution of a for just cause only eviction ordinance would clearly put a stop to this practice because landlords would only be allowed to evict tenants for spelled out reasons like non payment of rent, willful trashing of the rental unit, criminal activity in the unit, being a nuisance to other tenants, etc. In other words, only the bad tenants who should be evicted, could be evicted. What could be fairer to both landlord and tenant?

        Of course, as Susie Price points out, some landlords are lax on the other side, that is not willing to evict tenants who should be evicted as long as they continue paying their rent. Therefore, a just cause ordinance should perhaps include penalties for landlords who do not evict when tenants need to go.

        • Dear Advocate,

          Thanks you for your note. Continuing to restate your position does not change the fact that the issues you raise are currently against the law and have redundant government oversight at the city, county, state, and federal level. There is no justification for adding any new laws or committees to do what they are already designed to do. If the city can not enforce the current laws, the tenants unions should use their considerable political weight to have the housing department focus on better enforcement. There is no indication that new laws will be better enforced and the result of this change will still be, as you recognized, that tenants will be less safe.

    • SJ Citizen in exile. Obviously you no longer live in San Jose. My experience in our San Jose neighborhood is that many landlords do NOT evict the people who are causing problems to other tenants and nearby home owners. We actually had to sue one landlord to get him to evict the long-time drug dealings living in his apartments whose customers and friends were a threat to the security and safety of our neighborhood. Landlords like this man, who lives in Los Altos, are only interested in a the rent check, not matter what the impact of their tenants on the community. In 20 years of working with tenant families at our local elementary school, I have witnessed far too many irresponsible landlords who do nothing to removed bad tenants, and who refused to maintain their buildings, even when told to by Code Enforcement. It is actually rather easy to evict a bad tenant, despite what landlords say publicly. I know. I am a landlord.

      • > It is actually rather easy to evict a bad tenant,

        News to me. Tell us your secret.

        If the tenant pays the rent and gets a poverty lawyer to fight for his “privacy” and against the violation of his “civil rights’ by the landlord, the bad tenant holds all the cards.

        • I have not winessed a “poverty lawyer” protect a bad tenant. I have only witnessed bad landlords refusing to evict bad tenants. When sued by neighbors, the negligent landlord promptly evicted the problem tenants.

      • Ms Price,

        Thank you for your note, but again like advocate your post already states my response. I did not say all property owners are willing to invite bad tenants to leave, but the right to do so must remain for those that do care about the safety of the tenants. To say it is rather easy to evict someone in a JCE environment is not stating fact. It is quite difficult to evict tenants in SF, Berkeley, etc.

        I too have seen many bad property owners allow their buildings to fall into disrepair. However, if you would like to see those blights removed, someone else must purchase that property and renovate it. They must also have the ability to make it safe. If you want responsible property owners to replace the subset of current owners that are irresponsible (we can debate what percentage that is) then you must give them the tools to create a clean and safe environment for their tenants. No where do I state that all property owners are responsible, actually I have seen some deplorable living conditions that I can not unsee. The only thing that will pull those tenants out of the abyss they are in is a property owner who can do something about it. If the tenants right activitist and the city council continue to get thier way, no responsible property owner will tolerate operating in San Jose, and they will certainly not initiate new projects. So the percentage of bad property owners will grow not shrink and living conditions in San Jose will degrade faster while making tenants less safe.

        In the long run, as the valuation of the remaining degrading properties declines, the “bad” property owners will sell out to either developers or “converters” and you will have a significant drop in units under the ARO, as has been seen in NYC, SF, Cambridge. I can, from a cynical perspective, see why some investors would welcome this opportunity for permanent gentrification that comes along with this regulation regime. As remaining ARO units are in shorter supply, thus commanding higher rent. I have been confused from the beginning why tenants unions and the more left orientated council members push for these regulations, as history is a guide to where it leads. That is, developers and investors get rich, responsible property owners leave, and low income tenants get displaced.

  2. > Our dad will be well taken care of by his children, who also respect his strong desire to remain independent.

    As should be the case. Problem solved.

    End of discussion.

    Everything else is just political warfare directed at private property.

    • And what about the tenants in the other 15 apartments. This is not the end of the discussion but the beginning of a discussion long needed.

      • > And what about the tenants in the other 15 apartments.

        What about them? They should be “well taken care of by their children”.

  3. Having a 92 year-old man stay while the other units are renovated is, as noted above, not only unsafe but unwise. Water and power would frequently be turned off and the noise, dust and physical obstructions would be inviting a lawsuit should he become ill or injured.

    Surely, with all the compassion, concern, donations and offers of help you’ve gotten after whining to the Murky Gnus you guys can purchase a property for him, right? Then you don’t have to worry about rent at all, you’ll be an almighty home owner who can simply be labeled “greedy” should you decide to rent it out after you father passes.

  4. My thanks to your father for his service. My 94 year old mother is now in assisted living for many of those reasons you have all pointed out and a few more, like she is eating better, taking medication on time, not overdosing because she forgot what she had already taken. We just lost my mother in law to, “The I Can Do It Myself Sindrom”. If we live long enough there will come a painful time when someone will have to make that decision for us that we can not live on our own anymore. On the other hand landlords need to make money if we want rental units to be avalible to the public.
    Greed has little to do with any business, it’s more about survival and growth.
    When was the last time you heard anyone complain about greedy Apple making too much money by overcharging a 94 year old for a moldy Iphone?

  5. Robert Mayer and Anne Sherman wrote about their father’s situation:

    If renovating the units was a priority as a unit becomes available, they could have just moved him into a vacant unit…

    But as others have pointed out, Mayer and Sherman “could have just moved” their Dad into their own house or apartment. If that is simply inconceivable to them, they “could have just moved him” into a nicer place than a $525 a month apartment, and paid the difference. But instead, they want even more laws passed—on top of the current laws that they admit aren’t working. What they want is for others to assume their responsibility, and take care of their father so they don’t have to. Isn’t that about it?

    Next, we have comments from a self-apppointed Mr or Ms ‘Advocate for Fairness’, who wants a just cause eviction law that would punish landlords who don’t evict “bad tenants.” ‘Advocate’ asks: “What could be fairer to both landlord and tenant?”

    Would the ‘advocate for Fairness’ please please explain what is ‘fair’ about a tenant who is paying $525 a month rent, when all the other tenants are paying $1,500 a month for an apartment in the same building? Explain for us how that is “fair” to either the property owner or to the other tenants?

    I’d offer to have a reasonable discussion of fairness—but not with someone who demonizes rental property owners, painting them as the greediest human beings on the planet. (The ‘Advocate for Fairness’ doesn’t explicitly say it that way… but has anyone seen a good word from the ‘Advocate’, ‘Citizen’, or ‘Suzie Price’ for those folks?)

    It probably never occurred to those folks that rental property owners actually provide housing to a large part of the population, and in direct competition with many other rental property owners. If landlords have it so cushy, I wonder why they aren’t landlords? Just think of the lost opportunity: The self-anointed ‘advocate’ could demonstrate to the rest of the ignoratii how to be ‘fair’ to all.

    Maybe they just don’t understand capitalization rates on rental properties, currently averaging around 3%. Getting a 3% return on investment isn’t much, but when a property owner’s headaches due to the Advocate’s “bad tenants” are thrown in, most folks would much rather park their investment money in a hassle-free mutual fund or a REIT.

    It’s clear that Mayer and Sherman suffer from psycholgical ‘projection'; imputing their own faults onto others. They tar rental property owners with a broad brush, accusing them of being “greedy”. But the really greedy ones are Sherman and Mayer, who didn’t step up and take care of their dad when he needed them. Instead, they demand even more laws, which would take the burden of their dad off them, and make their father the responsibility of the same folks who have been providing him with very inexpensive housing. It will be just fine with them if they can use the force of law to shift the responsibility for their father onto someone else. So really, who is being greedy?

    This is simply a numbers game: there are a few dozen tenants for every landlord, and if the electeds can do anything, they can count votes. What, you think they care about nameless, faceless tenants they’ve never met? Sure. As if.

    • > I’d offer to have a reasonable discussion of fairness

      The idea of “fairness” is VERY VERY fundamental to the psyche of the left/liberal/progressive underclass. That’s why “fairness” is a constant refrain in the mantras of “progressive” politicians.

      “Fairness” is a circular, self-limiting concept. The Left equates “fairness” with “equality” and, in economic terms, “equality” is only found at the bottom of the scale where everyone lives at the subsistence level. The demand for “fairness” is ultimately a demand for universal impoverishment.

      “A reasonable discussion of fairness” would ultimately uncover some very primitive thinking.

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