Workshop helps students understand their rights as renters

Tiana Walker | Spartan Daily | Link to Article

As new renters, many students are entering into agreements with landlords without knowing their tenants. On Wednesday at 6 p.m. the SJSU Human Rights Program hosted a “Know Your Rights” workshop.

The workshop informed the public on housing rights as renters in the San Jose and Santa Clara County area. The event was held in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in room 225.

Sociology senior and human rights minor Diana Alvarado facilitated the event as a part of a project for her minor. Alvarado thought that this topic was a relevant issue that many students are in the dark about everywhere.

Alvarado is also a leader in the organization People Acting in the Community Together (PACT).

“In order to prevent homelessness, we also have to protect the people who are living in the homes,” Alvarado said.

According to the site, the city of San Jose is ranked one of the most expensive cities to pay rent in North America.

The guest speaker at the workshop was Project Sentinel director Sandra DeLateur. Project Sentinel is a non-profit organization that works to mediate between landlords and tenants by informing both parties of tenants’ rights and finding solutions to their issues.  

“We believe that education and understanding is the first part to avoiding disputes,” DeLateur said.

DeLateur informed the crowd of about 40 students and community members on California civil codes and various laws that pertain to renting in the Santa Clara County. She answered questions and gave advice such as the importance of signing lease contracts with landlords.

The director advises to get everything down in writing before you sign.

“Don’t let them tell you we’ll change that later,” DeLateur said.

Landlords also can’t ask for very large security deposits when tenants are students.

“I rented for years,” said DeLateur. “I know what students go through. I feel like it would have helped if I had more knowledge when I was younger.”  

According to PACT, there are over 4,000 homeless people within San Jose. That number includes families, seniors, veterans and more.

One statistic presented in the workshop was that the average rent in San Jose is $2,257. Oftentimes, landlords require that potential tenants make an income that is twice the amount of the rent —  a requirement that is not realistic for most jobs students work.

DeLateur said that while this is legal, landlords cannot discriminate based on tenants’ sources of income. This was made clear in the Income Verification Discrimination Act.

Alvarado said that it is important for students to know what type of relationship students should have with their landlord. Project Sentinel offered handouts that gave information on avoiding security deposit disputes, protecting your rights and becoming a successful tenant.

PACT member Shirley Stager was also in attendance at the workshop.

“I took a lot of notes,” Stager said. “We really need to know our rights as tenants otherwise the landlords can just do whatever they want.”

She said that she has spent a number of years living in San Jose not knowing what her rights were as a tenant and experienced landlords who took advantage of that.

Stager is also a member of the Affordable Housing organization which has teamed up with PACT and other organizations to start a housing coalition. The coalition meets with city council members in order to create housing regulations.

The housing coalition met with the city council less than a year ago to reduce the allowable annual rent increase from 8to 5percent. Stager says the meeting went on until 2 a.m.

There will be another city council meeting on April 18 to discuss “no cause” to evict allowance that landlords have. This means that certain circumstances will allow landlords to evict tenants without a just cause.

City council will also vote on other various protections for renters. The meeting will be held at San Jose City Hall at 1:30 p.m.