For the past two weeks, Javier Delgadillo has been on the go.
In between his full-time job managing a car parts distribution company, his duties as a softball team dad and raising two teenagers, the East Bay native spends much of his spare free time reading the city’s rental housing laws and phoning or fielding calls from tenant advocacy groups, the city and legal organizations so his family can stay in their home.
He is also trying to find answers for many of his Spanish-speaking neighbors in Tiki Garden Apartments, who like him have been told to move out after a February fire damaged some units on the building’s second and third floors.
“I’ve been directed to state laws and the city ordinance, but if you don’t know how to read the words and don’t know what it means, it’s like reading a Shakespeare book,” Delgadillo, 33, said in an interview last week.
The three-bedroom apartment he has shared with his fiance, Victoria Alvarado, 34, and their two children for the past year and a half is one of only a handful in the building — and fewer than 1,000 apartments in all of Hayward — covered by a rent control provision in the city’s rent stabilization law.
Victoria Alvarado’s mother, Sylvia Alvarado, lives in another rent-control unit across the hall.
“I’m a manager, so I have stress at work, and then I’m helping people, which is stressful because they have questions that I don’t have answers to,” Alvarado said as he hosted an impromptu meeting with neighbors in his home.
“On top of that, we all have to come home, cook dinner, clean the house, wash clothes, be fathers, fiances or sports coaches, and do small things like making sure our kids brush our teeth,” he said.
The law shielded them from high rent increases that forced some neighbors out, including Kathleen Souza, a blind, 69-year-old tenant who left less than two weeks ago after the rent for her studio rose by 135.7 percent, from $700 to $1,650, without utilities included.
Her unit received a rent control exemption in 1986 under Hayward’s law, which requires landlords to make a certain amount of improvements and file a notice with the city to qualify.
The monthly rent for Delgadillo’s unit rose by 5 percent, the maximum allowed annually, from $1,600 to $1,680. Rent control protections, however, have not stopped eviction notices from appearing.
A three-day notice to vacate from their landlord’s attorney, shown to the Daily Review, was taped to their door April 7, saying legal action would be taken if Delgadillo and his family stayed put. It cited the Feb. 27 fire on the third floor that caused “substantial damage to the property.”
Delgadillo and Alvarado are on the first floor on the opposite side of the building where the fire occurred. Their apartments sustained no damage.
The evictions are needed to make repairs and eliminate any health risks to tenants, Santa Monica attorney Gary Fidler wrote in an April 6 letter.
Some landlords can use a similar approach to work around rent control laws by clearing out tenants, making improvements, filing for rent control exemptions and raising rents, said Sara Linck-Frenz, a hotline and volunteer coordinator at the Tenants Together advocacy group, of San Francisco.
Hayward’s law gives tenants in rent-controlled units the right to decide whether to move back in before a renovated apartment can be rented to someone else at a higher rate. Still, that practice is not always effective or practical, Linck-Frenz said.
“If you don’t find a place within that time and you end up moving out of Hayward, it doesn’t really do that much to have first right of return,” Linck-Frenz said Tuesday.
“Cities with better ordinances not only allow you to have first right of return but requires your landlord to pay to relocate you during that time because the assumption is that, if you’re living in a rent-controlled unit, all the market rent places that you could potentially find for that period are going to be way higher than what you’re paying, so it’s not exactly affordable to move out for three months to fix this fire or whatever it is and move back in,” she said.
Last week, a website for the property, marketed as Solis Garden Apartments, listed Delgadillo’s apartment, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, as available for rent, starting April 10 at a $2,800 monthly rate. As of Tuesday, the same unit was listed as being available “now.”
Calls and emails to Fidler were not returned before press time Wednesday.
Hayward’s rent stabilization law allows a landlord with proper building or demolition permits to conduct “substantial repairs … affecting the health and safety of tenants … and where such repairs cannot be completed while the tenant resides on the premises.”
Hayward code enforcement employees inspected the property during the past week, but the results were not yet available, city spokesman Chuck Finnie said Monday.
Evictions for Delgadillo’s family, Sylvia Alvarado and at least one other unit under rent control on their floor have been put on hold while the city’s mediation and arbitration process with Tiki Garden proceeds as part of the city’s rent stabilization law.
Delgadillo filed a petition against his rent increase within the law’s 30-day window. He and his family are digging their heels in and hoping the city’s mediation and arbitration process will protect them.
“It’s frustrating, at the very least, and stressful,” Delgadillo said.