“I received a notice for rent increase. Can the landlord just do that?”
“Nothing ever gets repaired here. What can I do?”
“I received a 60-day termination notice, but I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“My tenant is a hoarder, and the apartment is a fire hazard. Can I evict him?”
“My tenants are behind in the rent. What are my rights?”
Project Sentinel answers these questions. The agency is a non-profit, HUD-approved housing mediation agency headquartered in Santa Clara and funded in part by the city. Its dispute resolution services are available free to roommates, co-tenants, tenants, and landlords.
“We give rental advice for free. We don’t take a position,” says Anky van Deursen, Director, Dispute Resolution Programs, explaining that counselors and mediators don’t make a decision. Rather, they provide a problem-solving structure and process that empowers the parties involved to resolve disputes themselves without going to court.
Project Sentinel also provides free assistance in fair housing issues that involve possible discrimination, home-buyer education classes, and mortgage counseling to prevent foreclosures and scams.
Sharleen Kilgore, Director of Housing Counseling Programs, points out that home owners may not know that the Keep Your Home California Agency Program (www.keepyourhomecalifornia.org), may even, in certain cases, make mortgage payments for a homeowner on unemployment assistance.
Project Sentinel’s HUD-certified counselors respond annually to about 500 calls regarding housing conflicts. They do phone consultations, mediate, and provide legal referrals if necessary.
Case managers conciliate by educating clients on landlord/tenant rules, helping them clarify issues and identify options, and enabling clear communication between the parties in dispute. Typical issues include security deposits, nonpayment of rent, and repairs.
If conciliation does not work, voluntary mediation is pursued. A trained, impartial mediator meets with the concerned parties, at their convenience, usually at the Project Sentinel offices or a conference room at Santa Clara City Hall. Each year, about 170 housing dispute cases go to mediation, with agreements reached in about 75 percent of the cases.
Client evaluations indicate high satisfaction with the process. Here are some of the testimonials from clients:
“I appreciate the professional approach of the mediators I met with.”
“Great community service.”
“Extremely helpful. [I] very much like [the service] and will recommend [it] to others.”
On January 17, Project Sentinel, founded in 1976 by the Stanford Mid-Peninsula Urban Coalition, celebrated its first anniversary in its new headquarters at 1490 El Camino Real, next to the Presidio El Camino apartment complex.
Project Sentinel serves most of Santa Clara County. From satellite offices, it serves certain cities in San Mateo, Alameda, and Stanislaus Counties.