Jim Lewis: A short-term answer for housing | TheUnion.com

Jim Lewis: A short-term answer for housing

I want to thank The Union, other sponsors and the panelists for the virtual town hall, “Priced Out,” which took place in March. This important online discussion highlighted our difficult housing situation in Nevada County, especially for women with children.

There have also been various articles in our newspaper that discussed our housing crisis. But unlike most proposed long-term solutions, there is one solution that could be implemented in a matter of weeks, once approved.

There are numerous Nevada County singles and couples who live by themselves — some in large single-family homes. Others live in two-bedroom mobile homes or condominiums.

Some have tried to live with housemates but had bad experiences. Others have thought about seeking housemates but were too scared to even try. Some homeowners can afford to live by themselves, but want housemates for friendship, assistance, security and pet-sitting, for example.

Others are financially unstable, living from month-to-month, worrying that someday their monthly income will not be enough. For them, monthly payments from a reliable housemate could result in a significant lifestyle improvement.

I read about a landlord in another state who required her tenant to virtually “leave” after 28 days. The furnished unit then underwent a documented “terminal cleaning.” The tenant returned under another 28-day short-term contract. This continued for years. The tenant gladly agreed to these terms because she really loved the apartment and its location.

I believe that a modified version of this concept could mutually benefit homeowners and tenants in Nevada County. This might require an exemption to landlord-tenant laws, so that long-term tenancy would be encouraged while using some short-term guidelines and incentives, primarily for housemate and granny-house situations.

Therefore, I propose a mutually beneficial, mutually renewable, no-fault, one-week lease arrangement. At the end of the week, both parties would have to agree to a new short-term lease.

As a practical matter, the default position would be that the lease would automatically be renewed indefinitely unless either party opted out. To be clear, the goal of this relationship would be that the owner and housemate would live together indefinitely in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

The value to the tenant would be that this short-term lease arrangement would likely result in more housing units becoming available to potential housemates fairly quickly.

This program might even help with our homeless situation. I believe at least some of our homeless residents might thrive in such a tough-love situation in which they fully understand that they could be legally forced to leave with just seven days’ notice.

The value to the homeowner would be that if the tenant violated the agreement, he/she could simply inform the tenant that the short-term lease would not be renewed. The tenant would have to move by the end of the seven-day period.

Otherwise, he/she could be escorted off the premises by law enforcement, if necessary, much like a hotel guest who has overstayed. Eviction (with all the costs, postings, and legal delays) wouldn’t be an issue. With this no-fault agreement, no reason needs to be given. Any claims of discrimination for any reason would be irrelevant.

I also propose establishing a volunteer committee to counsel participants and mediate these agreements. Each party could be counseled, individually at first, then together. They would review, discuss, and mutually agree to each item, one at a time.

For example, a homeowner could emphatically state that she does not want a smoker, even if that person smoked outside. If her new roommate violated this requirement, she could simply inform the tenant and committee that the lease would not be renewed. Nothing would need to be proven. Deposits could be immediately returned. Other such details could be determined by the committee.

Obviously, the task of successfully matching homeowners with potential tenant-housemates would be critical. Any such new or existing organization would be much more efficient and successful if it could operate using a mutually beneficial, mutually renewable, no-fault, short-term lease agreement.

Many Californians believe that landlord-tenant laws tend to favor tenants in our state. However, I strongly believe that these laws also make it more difficult for tenants because such laws discourage most homeowners from even considering having housemates.

Hopefully, our county and state would work together to allow a temporary exemption to any laws that might prohibit this mutually beneficial arrangement. Perhaps our county could be granted a one-year exemption on an experimental basis.

I sincerely believe that such a program would greatly benefit homeowners as well as potential housemates in our beautiful, caring community.

Jim Lewis lives in Grass Valley. He has owned and managed multiple rental properties. He is a retired ER nurse/supervisor.

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