Ideally, landlords and the residents would always see eye to eye. Unfortunately we don’t live in an “ideal” world. Sometimes disputes are inevitable. Thankfully, the City of San Jose has a mechanism for resolving disputes between San Jose property managers (or landlords who self-manage) and residents. It’s known as the “Rental Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Ordinance.”
In this article, we share insight as to when San Jose property management companies, landlords and residents may want to take advantage of the services provided under this ordinance.
This is the fourth in a series of Landlord Journal articles in which we’ve taken a deep dive into the nuances of San Jose’s Apartment Rent Ordinance. Previous articles included:
- How to Determine Whether Your San Jose Apartment is Subject to Rent Control
- When can San Jose Property Managers and Landlords Increase Rents More than 5%?
- What San Jose Property Managers, Landlords Need to Know about “Fair Return” Petitions
Our goal is to share information that will help San Jose property managers and apartment owners comply with local regulations, and take advantage of programs that they might not have even known existed.
To that end, let’s look at how the city’s mediation and arbitration services could come in handy.
Who’s Eligible for the City’s Mediation and Arbitration Services?
The Rental Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Ordinance covers all units subject to rent control under the San Jose Apartment Rent Ordinance How to Determine Whether Your San Jose Apartment is Subject to Rent Control. As long as a resident lives in one of the units that qualify for mediation and arbitration services, he/she can file a petition with the city’s Rental Rights and Referrals Program, a program within the city’s housing department.
Reasons to File a Petition
There are a number of reasons why a San Jose tenant may want to file a petition seeking mediation and arbitration services. The most common reason is when a tenant feels his/her rent has been unfairly increased or rights have otherwise been violated.
Additional reasons to file a petition include:
- When the tenant has experienced a reduction in services over the past 12 months without a corresponding reduction in rent (as the City considers this an unlawful rent increase);
- Health and safety violations, as documented by the City’s Code Enforcement unit; and
- Following a “No Cause” eviction.
San Jose property managers and landlords may also file a petition with the Rental Rights and Referrals Program regarding rent increases in lieu of (or prior to) filing a Fair Return waiver.
Understanding the Petition Process
Whether the petition for mediation and arbitration is filed by the landlord or tenant, the process looks the same. The City will send written notice to all parties at least seven days prior to the hearing. The Ordinance requires the City to set a hearing date within 21 days of the petition being filed, but allows for “additional time” as necessary.
The City’s Housing Department contracts with outside administrative hearing officers to perform hearings for mediations and arbitrations. At these hearings, officers attempt to resolve disputes between San Jose property managers, landlords and tenants.
In FY2015-2016, the Housing Department received 415 petition requests that resulted in 316 hearings, the equivalent of about 26 per month.
The sheer volume of requests has slowed the petition process. According to a recent memo provided by City staff:
Hearings can be difficult to schedule, requiring Department staff to find mutually agreeable times for tenants, landlords and hearing officers. Some cases involve multiple unrelated tenants who all need to be included. In addition to scheduling, Program staff are responsible for obtaining and reviewing the documentation required for hearings. One staff member is primarily responsible for scheduling hearings and taking calls; another is responsible for processing petitions and handling walk-ins.
City staff also cited difficulty finding administrative hearing officers as a reason why the mediation and arbitration process is often delayed. In response to these challenges, the City is exploring the possibility of adding staff to speed the process up, thereby resulting in faster resolutions.
Mediation Used to Resolve Dispute over Bedbug Infestation
In order to illustrate how effective San Jose’s mediation and arbitration services can be, let’s look at a case from July 2016. A tenant filed a petition to report a bedbug infestation. The landlord argued that the tenant was to blame for the infestation.
A mediation hearing was scheduled, in which a hearing officer listened to all of the facts of the case. Ultimately, the landlord and tenant came to a voluntary agreement to settle their dispute: the tenant would pay $800 for pest abatement. Any future treatments (if needed) would be paid for by the landlord and carried out by the San Jose property management company overseeing the building. The agreement stipulated that as long as the terms of the agreement were followed, the landlord would not sure the tenant for the infestation.
The case was then “closed” by the end of July 2016, with the parties committing to the mutually-acceptable resolution.
Any San Jose property manager, landlord or tenant interested in taking advantage of the city’s mediation and arbitration services should contact the Rental Rights and Referrals Program to learn more.