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Peninsula | Health, Housing, and Public Services

Struggle to Recover from Rent Overcharges in East Palo Alto Continues
by Eye on EPA
Wednesday Nov 4th, 2009 8:44 PM
The struggle continues for the victims of a major predatory equity scheme. Tenants concerned not only for themselves, but for former neighbors who were forced out of East Palo Alto properties, gathered to launch a series of actions to roll back rents and work together to recover their losses.

Top photo: A West Park Apartments neighbor called on community members to draw on the support of one another in their time of emotional and economic need.

Page Mill Properties has long been engaged in battle with the city of East Palo Alto and its residents. In 2006 Page Mill Properties began buying up rent-controlled housing in the city, hoping that its proximity to tony Palo Alto would bring the property owners huge profits in a thinly disguised property flipping scheme.

Page Mill implemented rent increases far in excess of the annual increase permitted under the city’s rent stabilization ordinance. Additionally they harassed and forced many tenants to leave their rental homes and apartments. The result was a destabilization of the community as school enrollments changed and established neighborhood groups including church congregations lost members.

Several groups addressed the legal issues including a fair rent coalition, a team of Stanford Law School students, and the services of a pro bono law firm until that firm itself went belly up. The Raging Grannies Displacement Watch Team joined with Youth United for Community Action at rallies to bring media attention to the case. Despite all such efforts, Page Mill continued on their rampage of greed and the emotional harm done to the community, as well as economic damage, has been immeasurable.

Some say Page Mill got what they were due, when the economy changed and their get-rich-quick scheme was foiled. The mega-landlord company is clearly headed for bankruptcy and has gone into receivership. Yet those who suffer the most are the tenants, those who continue to reside in the properties, and those who were forced to leave.

Tenant rights activist Chris Lund lives in a Page Mill property now run by Ward Realty thanks to a court appointed receivership. At a tenants' rights rally outside of West Park Apartments today he said that there is a good chance that rents can be rolled back from the outrageous rates Page Mill demanded illegally. Chair of East Palo Alto's Rent Board Midge Dorn said that tenants should not only get a roll-back on future rents, but should have money returned for past overpayments.

During the rally residents expressed hope that with persistence and a good deal of luck, there could even be a return of the money Page Mill overcharged past tenants. But how to reach those tenants? Many were frightened by illegal "quit or pay" notices and other legal-looking, threatening documents from Page Mill; some left hurriedly leaving no forwarding information, frightened by Page Mill's tactics of intimidation.

Tenants attending today's rally vowed to try to contact previous tenants so that they might, in the future, get some of the money they are owed. Meanwhile the struggle to roll back the current rents continues...