San Mateo residents upset over evictions 

People protest in front of Park Royal Apartments in San Mateo on Friday due to impending evictions. - BRENDEN BARTHOLOMEW/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Brenden Bartholomew/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • People protest in front of Park Royal Apartments in San Mateo on Friday due to impending evictions.
Dozens of soon-to-be displaced residents and their supporters protested last week in front of San Mateo’s Park Royal Apartments, which they said is only the latest among several Peninsula housing complexes to be “cleared out” by landlords hoping to get rid of working-class tenants and cash in on the Bay Area’s booming rental market.

But the Park Royal’s management company, Woodmont Real Estate Services, claims the evictions were necessary because the buildings in question were long overdue for renovation, and tenants have known for more than two years that they would eventually have to move out.

Aracely Mondragon, a spokeswoman for San Francisco Organizing Project-Peninsula Interfaith Action, said Park Royal’s owner, San Mateo-based G.W. Williams Co., wanted to empty the housing development’s six buildings and upgrade the apartments so they could be rented at much higher rates than the current residents pay.

Tenant Roberto Dominguez said his family has lived in a two-bedroom apartment at Park Royal for over six years. After multiple rent increases, Dominguez said their monthly rent went from $1,400 to $2,100.

Dominguez said his family received notice that they must vacate their apartment by the end of the month, and the cheapest one-bedroom apartment they could find in the area was priced at $1,900. He added that the family would probably be forced to move to the East Bay, which would make commuting to work on the Peninsula expensive and time-consuming.

Mondragon said several families living at Park Royal have had experiences similar to Dominguez’s, and she noted that the complex’s newly renovated apartments have been advertised at much higher rates than what the outgoing tenants have been paying, even after their recent rent hikes.

The Park Royal website shows one-bedroom apartments now start at $2,468 per month, while two-bedroom units are priced at $3,198.

East Palo Alto-based housing attorney Daniel Saver claimed that what is happening to Dominguez and his neighbors is part of a larger trend in which tenants are evicted so apartment buildings can be rehabbed and rebranded as luxury dwellings.

“What happened in this building, this is commonplace right now,” Saver said. “The only thing that stands out is the magnitude.”

Except for parts of East Palo Alto and certain mobile home parks, there is no rent control in San Mateo County. The county also does not have a just-cause eviction ordinance, so landlords are free to evict tenants without providing a reason.

Mondragon acknowledged that Park Royal’s owners are acting lawfully, and Saver noted that due to the relative lack of tenant protections in the county, he is often forced to tell clients there is not much he can do for them.

“I tell them I understand that you’ve lived here for years, I understand that you don’t want to take your kids out of school, but the law doesn’t care about your story,” Saver said.

Park Royal spokesman Gary Marsh said it was necessary to ask the tenants to leave because the buildings in question are more than 60 years old and have never been renovated. He described the buildings’ prerenovation state as “safe but tired,” and claimed failing to renovate would have made the complex increasingly uncompetitive and difficult to market.

And when landlords make capital improvements, Marsh said, they need to get returns on their investments by raising rents. Marsh added that none of the Park Royal units were designated as below-market-rate housing and had always rented at market rate.

While Woodmont Realty was required to give tenants 60-day eviction notices, Marsh said the 12 families or individuals still in the complex have known for at least two years that they would eventually have to leave, because Woodmont stopped renewing leases and put everybody on month-to-month status in 2013. “No one can claim that this is a surprise to them,” Marsh noted. “They knew this day was coming.”

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