In October Beverly Hills ended no-just-cause evictions for all residents who rent. This important change repealed the ‘original sin’ of our rent stabilization ordinance: with just 60 days notice a landlord could terminate a tenant with no reason necessary and no relocation fee payable. Beverly Hills allowed that abuse to occur for three decades (only Chapter 5 tenants were spared). Finally the current City Council heeded the call to end it by outlawing it with the adoption of an urgency ordinance.
It happened at the October 18, 2018 study session. This was the second in a series of three sessions organized to discuss final changes to the rent stabilization ordinance. On the agenda that morning was a raft of policies on which City Council needed to provide direction: the magnitude of the allowed annual rent increase; exemptions to rent controls; new habitability standards perhaps; what to do about no-just-cause terminations and much more.
City Council had not even gotten past public comment when two former tenants at 458 South Roxbury recounted how their landlord, Dr. Stephen Copen, had evicted them for no reason a short time after he bought their building.
Eighteen months earlier in April of 2017, you see, Dr. Copen groused to City Council about a tenant who enjoyed a view of Roxbury Park at what he thought was a too-low rent. He didn’t want to subsidize her rent, he said, and suggested she ought to downsize to a smaller apartment more in line with her budget. Having evidently ruminated on it some more, he evicted her a couple of months later. She had lived there 30+ years.
In that same south Roxbury building lived another tenant. He had participated in the rent stabilization dialogues in the summer of 2017 but his concern about landlord retaliation prompted him to drop out. But before long Dr. Copen sent him packing anyway — a clear case of retaliation as the landlord’s attorney reminded him about his role as a tenant advocate. He had lived there for 29 years.
They spoke to Council about their experience on October 18th. Then stepped up a young couple just off their honeymoon. A week earlier she had found a 60-day notice pinned to their door after 10 p.m. It was the same night as the October 11th rent stabilization meeting. When asked why he muttered something about his unhappiness with the City Council’s action at that meeting just minutes before.
Councilmembers had heard enough. Lili Bosse suggested an urgency ordinance to end no-just-cause terminations and Vice-Mayor John Mirisch agreed. Mayor Gold wasn’t supportive until two other councilmembers, Les Friedman and Bob Wunderlich, climbed aboard. The urgency ordinance needed four votes to pass. The Mayor reluctantly made it five.
Vice-Mayor Mirisch moreover suggested that the couple be protected from eviction and proclaimed it “the Copen ordinance.” The City Attorney drafted the urgency ordinance that same day and by evening it was signed at an impromptu session of City Council.
Landlords cried foul: “It was not on the agenda for discussion!” But that was simply more bellyaching. It should have been no surprise to landlords because Council had considered ending no-just-cause terminations before and the city’s consultant had even produced a memo on the topic two weeks prior to the October 18th meeting.
The landlords must not have been paying attention because two weeks earlier City Council was provided (for the first time) the number of no-just-case terminations since January 2017. Turns out that 56 families had been evicted for no cause (including those tenants) and the pace of no-just-cause terminations was accelerating, the city’s consultant said.
Whatever the city data showed, it took these tenants to fully underscore the harm caused by the no-just-cause allowance and the countless families evicted over the decades under the policy.
The Council’s urgency ordinance read:
Tenants who were or are residing in Chapter 6 units in the City have testified before the City Council that they are being evicted from their units, even though they are good tenants who pay their rent timely. This ordinance is designed to address this situation by eliminating the “no cause” evictions from Chapter 6 units and adding new “just cause” eviction requirements that must be satisfied in order to evict tenants from Chapter 6 units. — Ordinance 18-O–2762 signed October 18, 2018
For three decades Beverly Hills Municipal Code included just 31 words concerning the involuntary termination of Chapter 6 tenants:
Written notice provided in accordance with state law shall be given to any tenant in order for a landlord to terminate the tenancy of a rental unit subject to this chapter. — BHMC 4–6–6
Other rent control cities devote thousands of words to the protection of tenants. Beverly Hills needed only 31 words where Chapter 6 tenants were concerned. (The relatively few Chapter 5 tenants were protected.)
The end to no-just-cause termination produced an ancillary benefit for Chapter 6 tenants: one-year’s notice for major remodeling (and higher relocation fees too); additional noticing requirements when the landlord wants to demolish or convert the property to condominiums; and 120 days notice if the landlord wants to withdraw the property from the rental market (one year for senior tenants). None of these provisions applied to Chapter 6 tenants before but were grafted into the rent stabilization Chapter 6.
Why did it take so long to end no-just-cause?
That is a great question! Landlords simply wanted to keep no-just-cause termination on the books. And until last month they had their way because no prior City Council dared to change it. It would have taken only three councilmembers’ votes to protect all tenants against no-just-cause eviction. That’s how little support tenants had from prior Councils.
But THIS City Council stepped up. However it could have acted sooner. Tenants had urged an end no-just-cause in early 2017 but Council declined.
Landlords offered these arguments for keeping it. They said they didn’t terminate tenants for no reason so there’s really no need to end the policy. And second, if they did use it that was only to rid their tenants of a nuisance neighbor. It was too onerous to take that tenant to court, they said.
Obviously there is some contradiction there: the first argument belies the fact that some landlords did say they used 60-day notices to evict for no-just-cause because it was simply more convenient than the courthouse. But state law provides the tenant with an opportunity to contest an eviction; no-just-cause termination denies the tenant any opportunity to contest it. Some landlords took advantage of our city’s lax regulation to get around that.
As for the second argument, if the process is onerous that is because a minority of tenants actually challenged their for-cause termination. Some prevailed. That’s not a bug but rather it is a feature of our adversarial legal system. The bug is that for-cause terminations too often go unchallenged.
City Council did good by ending no-just-cause terminations. Had it happened sooner, though, there would be as many as 56 families that wouldn’t have had to find replacement housing. And we know that some of them, even those with children in the schools, had to leave Beverly Hills for good.
- ‘Countless’ because the city literally did not keep any count of families evicted for no-just-cause. There simply wasn’t any interest in tracking the issue. The first reliable data was collected by early 2017 and even that data is not complete. We know because landlords did not inform the city as required. Slowly we’re getting a clearer picture. Had City Council simply ended the practice with revisions to the rent stabilization ordinance in early 2017 those 56 families would still have a home. ↩