San Jose Council Members Want to Earmark Extra $150,000 for Landlord-Tenant Mediation

Two elected officials in San Jose want to earmark an extra $150,000 from the city’s budget to expand mediation services for tenants and landlords.

Councilmen Don Rocha and Sergio Jimenez proposed the one-time cash infusion to boost the Responsible Landlord Engagement Initiative (RLEI), a decade-old program that helps renters defend themselves against unscrupulous landlords. The service also empowers landlords to fight back against problem tenants.

The proposal comes up for consideration at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, during a public hearing on the proposed 2017-18 budget. Bolstering protections for renters has been a significant priority for the city this year. In April, a divided council outlawed no-cause evictions and strengthened its rent control ordinance.

The RLEI—one of the few free mediation options available for tenants—is an important part of those efforts, Rocha and Jimenez said. Jaime Angulo and Maryela Perez, who administer RLEI through Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, have resolved 46 cases to date and boast a 100 percent success rate in small claims court. The pair works with landlords, property managers and renters to address problems such as neglect and criminal activity.

But the two-person team is too small to deal with the demand spurred by a competitive housing market. Rocha and Jimenez said council members often call on the responsible landlord program to address problem homes in all 10 council districts.

“RLEI has shown great leadership and success in engaging neighbors and landlords,” Rocha and Jimenez wrote in their shared memo. “In [Jimenez’s] District 2, RLEI was utilized as a resource to address problem homes in the area, saving law and code enforcement time and resources.”

The program’s success is best illustrated by its return on investment, they added: $1.28 for every dollar the city spends on RLEI. The mediation service relies on a $150,000 federal grant, which assumes a match in local funding. If the city fails to support it, however, the program can’t last, Rocha and Jimenez said.

“The funding situation for RLEI is very dire,” the pair wrote. “A contribution from the city in the amount of $150,000 will allow the program to continue at current funding levels.”

The city’s five-year budget outlook includes a projected $86.5 million shortfall. As a result, Mayor Sam Liccardo cautioned in his spending plan against dipping into the general fund to support certain ongoing expenses. “However,” Rocha and Jimenez argued, “supporting RLEI will undoubtedly lead to a cost savings.”

Click here to read the mayor’s spending proposal.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for June 13, 2017:

  • Councilman Johnny Khamis is urging the city to require a proposed 41-unit, low-income development to include a community center. People who live in the area, off of Gallup and Mesa drives, lack a community space. A group of residents was forced to host Zumba classes under carports, where children play in the driveways while their mothers exercise. But cars come and go during the classes, which makes it unsafe for the kids. Khamis said they’ve tried to find spaces in nearby churches, to no avail. “The neighborhood needs a space where they can have neighborhood watch and neighborhood association meetings, hold celebrations like quincañeras and present Zumba classes,” Khamis wrote.
  • A planned $350 million, 25-story tower by Santana Row will include a publicly accessible rooftop, which the developer promised to keep open to everyone from dawn to dusk. Council members Chappie Jones and Dev Davis want the developer to throw in a few more perks, since the building—called Volar—is considered a signature project. As a condition of approval, they suggest requiring a way-finding art installation at the ground level to direct people to the rooftop at 35 S. Winchester Blvd. They also want the developer to provide a free shuttle to and from the local train station, a carpool matching service, kiosks with transit information, bicycle storage and on-site amenities such as bike repair and dry cleaning.
  • The city will consider spending $230,000 on psychological screenings for new police officers. San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia also requested four annual renewal options to work with Law Enforcement Psychological Services, Inc., a Palo Alto-based firm.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

4 Comments

  1. They don’t explain the difference, but in mediation, a mediator essentially tries to persuade the parties to come to some sort of agreement.

    Mediation and arbitration are often confused. Mediation is a completely voluntary process for all concerned, but arbitration is like being in court: an arbitrator listens to both sides, then renders a final decision (pending any appeals).

    So landlords who want to listen can attend mediation. But not all do. In this market it’s easy to rent to the next person, and tenants don’t have much recourse. But they should still try appealing to the owner, since rental property owners are like any other group. Some are excellent, and some are bad—but most of them are in the middle of the Bell curve, just like people in any group. If a property owner is inclined to listen, tenants don’t need a mediator. But if an owner won’t meet, there’s nothing a mediator can do.

    Before anyone argues that landords who refuse to mediate are like Snidely Whiplash, they should ask themselves if employees in great demand should turn down higher pay that an employer is forced to give them because their particular skills are in short supply. Or if gas stations should sell their product cheaper than the gas station across the street. Or if grocery stores should reduce prices for people on a tight budget. Or any number of similar supply/demand situations.

    Rental property owners didn’t create the current housing shortage. And as a group, they did without things for many years, trying to build their business. They didn’t expect rents to climb nearly so high, but expecting them to rent their property for less than the next guy is no different than expecting a homeowner to sell his house for 2006 prices. This is the real world, where Lotto tickets don’t pay off (except for someone interviewed on the nightly news).

    There is a housing shortage here for one reason: good paying jobs are plentiful. That’s why so many people are here. Local workers make more money than they do elsewhere, and as a direct result rents are high.

    I’m not passing judgement, I’m just pointing out reality. If some tenants can’t afford renting here, there are lots of places with much cheaper rents. But the jobs in those places pay less, too (however, state and federal benefits are generally the same, so draw your own conclusions).

    It’s a tough choice. But demonizing rental property owners has never been a solution, it’s just wheel-spinning and venting. And it’s very doubtful that mediators make much of a difference. IMHO, this $150,000 dollars could be better spent helping tenants directly. Why pay mediators, when they can be completely ignored?

    I’m not a landlord, but I know grandstanding when I see it, and these Council members are grandstanding.

    They’re also wasting our tax money. No one needs a publicly supported mediator to discuss these things. Just call the property owner and say, “Hi! I’m your renter, and there’s a problem you might be able to help with. Can we meet for a few minutes?”

    No rental owner will reject a request like that from any reasonably good tenant. Furthermore, having a third party involved can hurt just as much as help, since any property owner will view a mediator as being on the side of the tenant. The program explicitly states that it… …helps renters defend themselves against unscrupulous landlords. By their own definition, a landlord who attends mediation is “unscrupulous”. I’m surprised any of them go to mediation.

    Instead of wasting more of our money tilting at windmills, these grandstanding Councilcritters should take a stand against wasting taxpayer assets, for once in their public lives. Now that would be man-bites-dog news!

    • My take on the proposal is different. It is less about the tenant and landlord issue. It is about the landlord being scum and doing nothing about their tenants, criminal activity on their property and code violations on the their property. I think we need to save every penny we can, but this is a small price to pay to attempt to clean up the dirt bag houses throughout the city. Too bad the city was so mismanaged for some many years….this budget item should be tripled.

  2. Please explain to me why any taxpayer funds should be spent on mediation between two private parties in contract.
    This should be dealt with by a private arbitrator if agreed to, or the civil courts. It’s not a city or taxpayer problem.

  3. RLEI is a good organization in theory, but in practice I’ve seen their budget used in ways I don’t agree with. They got involved in a case against the 7-Eleven convenience store 2 blocks from my house because landlords were upset that homeless people were loitering in the area. A business with a loitering problem obviously does not want the loitering to happen. It hurts their business and they are a victim of the situation. From what they 7-11 clerk told me, RLEI was proposing solutions that were too expensive to implement without them closing shop.

    I’d personally rather see my tax money go to problems that address downtown SJ homelessness — the actual root of the problem, not organization like RLEI that penalize the businesses that are victims of it. My preference is to see my tax payer money go to programs like drug rehabilitation, career training, gov’t subsidies for low income families, etc.

Leave a Reply to Empty Gun Cancel reply