A complex issue for San Mateo rent increases

In the 18 months since the Hillsdale Garden Apartments changed hands, Laura O’Brien’s rent for her three-bedroom apartment has increased by $530.

She said she would move, but can’t.

O’Brien is a licensed child care provider who runs a day care out of her home; her business license is linked to her address. Her family includes four children who are excelling at Hillsdale High School and O’Brien doesn’t want to disrupt their education.

O’Brien is among hundreds of residents at the 697-unit apartment complex, located next to the Hillsdale Shopping Center, who have seen rents hiked by hundreds of dollars in the past two years. She says she’s one of the few who have not moved out.

The complex was purchased from a local owner in September 2006 by Essex Property Trust, a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. Before the purchase, the average rent of the five residents interviewed by The Examiner was $1,250 for a two-bedroom apartment. Each of the residents interviewed reported rent increases of at least $400.

According to Essex, the average rent today at the complex ranges between $1,700 and $1,900. A county report from December 2007 listed the county’s average rent for a two-bedroom unit at $1,785.

Last year, in response to a public outcry about the rent increase, Essex agreed to refrain from raising rent by more than $200 at a time. But this week, the Beresford-Hillsdale Neighborhood Association sent a letter to the City Council stating that “the situation at Hillsdale has not improved.”

The letter said rents have continued to rise and the association has asked the City Council to meet with Essex on behalf of the residents.

Essex representative Nicole Christian said that when the firm took over the property, “the rents were very well below market, so we’ve increased them to what we think the market rate is for that neighborhood.”

San Mateo Community Development Director Bob Beyer said he spoke with Essex last year, but legally the city’s hands are tied since the complex is a privately held property and the city does not have rent control laws.

What that means for the O’Briens, who have been “tightening the belt” to make up for the hundreds more a month they must pay for rent, is a tough decision.

“We’re just stuck,” she said.

kworth@examiner.com

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