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[whitespace] Saratoga to hire nonprofit to manage Hakone Cottage

Saratoga-The city of Saratoga is looking for a way out of the flap over renting the Hakone Gardens caretaker's cottage as an affordable housing unit, and it just might have found a way to do it.

City Manager Larry Perlin told the City Council Feb. 17 that the city will hire an agency that can serve as a independent landlord, or more of an intermediary between the Hakone Foundation and the city to handle all the issues that come along with renting a property.

The landlord will take care of all rental issues including taking applications and screening applicants, receiving a security deposit and rent and dealing with tenant/landlord disputes and concerns.

No agency has been hired yet, but the city has started looking for qualified agencies that can provide the landlord service. Perlin said the city would prefer one that has experience in dealing with affordable housing units.

Interviews with two agencies that are currently managing affordable housing units in Saratoga are scheduled for the end of this month. When an agency is hired, it will get about 6 percent of the annual rent in fees, or about $600. The rest of the rent will go to the Hakone Foundation, as previously planned.

The move came after the Palo Alto-based fair housing agency Project Sentinel took issue with statements attributed to the city in newspaper articles specifying that children would be inappropriate tenants and that the ideal tenants would be a retired couple. For the city to announce to whom it wanted to rent is discriminatory and violates fair housing laws according to Project Sentinel.

The cottage is supposed to be open to anyone who qualifies for affordable housing, just as all rentals are supposed to be fair game for anyone who applies, regardless of familial situation, race or creed.

So far, the city has received a number of applications for the unit, but hasn't rented it out yet. Perlin said that those applications will go to whoever the new landlord is, who will then be in charge of selecting a tenant.

According to Project Sentinel, current laws say the two-bedroom cottage is large enough for four or five people, not just two. On the other hand, the city was concerned about renting the unit to a family with children because it's located next to Hakone's parking lot and near the pond inside Hakone Gardens.
Steve Enders

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