Thirty-nine years ago today, on March 27, 1979, the City of Beverly Hills enacted a “temporary system of stabilization and control of apartment rent levels.” The introduction to the Municipal Code of Chapter 5 Rent Stabilization that year was an effort to draw a line under the problem of excessive rent increases and destabilizing turnover in rental housing. Just as City Council recently observed when it adopted the original urgency ordinance last January, the cost of rental housing was moving beyond reach of residents and threatening the stability of households that rent. Then and now renters comprise more than half of all households in the city. But often protections come too little and too late. But Chapter 5 delivered for tenants.
Incidents involving disruptive animals in airplanes have garnered much attention recently because farm animals like pigs and peacocks don’t seem a good fit for a tight cabin. Yet they may fly as ‘emotional support’ animals under federal rules. Tenants can claim the same accommodation and may use it to keep a landlord from turning away a pet. But is that advisable? Let’s take a closer look at pets in apartments and review the tenant’s options.
It has been a while since residents received an update from City Hall about rent stabilization. The rental unit registry was completed in January and other aspects of program implementation have continued, yet we’ve heard nothing about either. The tenant workshops came and went nine months ago, and though City Council approved the hiring of a rent stabilization program director in September, no one has been hired for the position. This very important housing program seems not to be a priority for City Hall.
Councilmember Lili Bosse closes out her year as Mayor next week when City Council chooses the next Mayor and Vice Mayor on March 20th at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As we look ahead to our next Council leaders, Gold and Mirsch, I want to thank Mayor Bosse for her support on behalf of tenants.
Landlords and tenants tend to get anxious when hearing the term ‘mold.’ But it’s important to remember that while mold is a moisture problem, the presence of moisture isn’t necessarily a mold problem. That is, humidity creates conditions for mold to grow but toxic mold should not prevail in our relatively dry climate unless it is left unaddressed. Mold is “complicated,” as they say, and so is getting help if you suspect mold is present in your apartment.
Months have passed without a single word from Beverly Hills officials about rent stabilization reform. No press release, newspaper ad, or website update keeps us informed about the process even though the current policy is only temporary and change will come. Officials let weeks go by without a reply when asked. Even a public records request can be met with an incomplete response. And don’t get me started about the programs that must be managed better in order to properly serve tenants.
What do Republican tax cuts mean for those who rent housing? A recent opinion piece in the NY Post suggests some good news: ‘New tax law is a huge win for renters’ reads the headline. But don’t be fooled. The American Apartment Owners Association calls ‘tax reform’ a gift to landlords. Indeed headlines like ‘GOP Tax Bill Rewards Real Estate’ and ‘GOP Tax Plan Holds Benefits for Landlords’ suggest the actual beneficiaries of so-called reform. With that ‘huge win for renters’ canard out of the way, let’s have a look at the real gifts bestowed by the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. There are many!
Beverly Hills offers few protections to the 8,600 households that rent. Unlike rent-stabilized cities that prohibit no-just-cause evictions or mandate minimum habitability standards, Beverly Hills simply falls back on the state’s civil code. That means tenants are on our own to defend our housing rights in court; we can’t depend on the city to step up. It is crucial that tenants get the most we can out of the city-funded housing rights legal services program.
Beverly Hills City Council wrapped up the year with two final administrative actions. In November the city hired a consultant to conduct an economic analysis; and on December 19th City Council passed an ordinance to impose a penalty on landlords that fail to register their property: no rent increase until the property is registered in the rental unit registry. Why the new penalty? One-in-five properties still are not registered.
Beverly Hills residents take well-kept properties for granted. High-and-rising values generate resources for maintenance and, in turn, maintenance keeps property values up. But maintenance is not part of the business model for some owners of residential rental property. Instead their priority is cash flow. But scrimping on maintenance not only affects tenants; it also augurs an overall decline in the city’s rental housing stock.
One of the things I’m thankful for is the quiet enjoyment of my apartment with friends and family on Thanksgiving. Quiet enjoyment is my right as a tenant (the court has ruled) and I am thankful that my property management company conducts business professionally to allow it. That includes responding to problems relatively quickly – something that every tenant should be able to take that for granted.
Update: Tenants and landlords looking forward to a final rent stabilization policy for Beverly Hills will have to wait a while longer. On November 21st City Council handed over to a national consulting firm, HR&A Advisors, the task of rent stabilization analysis. The consultant will undertake data collection, analysis, and even convene additional facilitated dialogues, culminating in a process that may unfold over the next 18-22 weeks. That extends the timeline for the rent stabilization discussion to nearly to years between the time that Council issued an urgency ordinance last January and the conclusion of the policy process by the new year.
During the the facilitated dialogues this summer, Beverly Hills landlords sat across the table from our tenants committee and opposed, in every way they could muster, the registry of rental units at the heart of the city’s rent stabilization program. It is a means to hold landlords accountable, of course, and that’s why they have embraced a scorched-earth campaign (and even a lawsuit) to pressure City Council to stop it. At the same time, a landlord has sought from the city all tenant complaints to code enforcement, including communications about unit conditions and rent increases. How do we know? I filed my own public records request on the landlord. Is potential tenant intimidation a step too far?
Last week much attention was focused on winners and losers. Republicans in the House of Representatives narrowly passed a budget resolution (‘blueprint’ it was called) as a step toward tax cuts. While sold as a middle-class cut, analysts say that the middle-class will pick up the $1.5 trillion tab for the breaks afforded to corporations and the wealthy. There will be the inevitable horse-trading over the coming weeks but we can be sure of one thing: corporations will win BIG and landlords as a class will benefit too.
I’ve met many lovely people while walking my dog. There’s Ross, a newly-married young guy who, with his wife, resides in their duplex down the block. Our pups don’t really spark but Ross and I chat amiably a few mornings a week. Then there’s Dick, the retired physician who owns an immaculate fourplex around the corner. I’ve seen him on morning walks with his beagle Alice for years. This community-minded guy even picks up the litter on my block!
Listening to tenants talk in City Council or at the facilitated dialogues I am astounded that significant health and safety issues go unreported. Situations where a property’s structure is compromised or where in-apartment conditions beg for an inspector from code enforcement. I also understand that some tenants fear retaliation and don’t want to go on record. But others might contact the city if they know to reach out, and how to make that complaint effective. Here I walk through the steps to file and online complaint and highlight how the form allows for filing a complaint anonymously.
Have you received a notice from the city asking you to confirm your rent as reported by the landlord? Appeal notices went out last Thursday to many – but not all – households that rent in Beverly Hills. If you did not yet receive one, don’t be alarmed; there may be a good reason (scroll down for more about that). If you did receive a notice, please pay attention in case you have been notified of an incorrect rent amount. Correct and certified rents is the foundation of any rent stabilization program, and that’s why the city created a rental registry in the first place!
City Council in Tuesday’s September 19th evening session adopted a resolution to create the rental unit registry. It was a formality, really. Council had decided to move ahead with it on September 5th despite a small parade of landlords who argued that the registry was not only unlawful but too costly and the product of an improper process. Councilmembers brushed those self-serving arguments aside, however, and at this meeting merely needed to adopt a resolution to formalize their decision. After hearing a few landlords again mount a last-chance campaign, the registry got Council’s OK in mere minutes.
After winding its way though the policy machinery for the past year, Beverly Hills City Council has unanimously supported a policy to regulate smoking in multifamily properties (including condominium buildings). Councilmembers spoke up strongly on Tuesday in favor of banning smoking in all apartments, for both new and existing tenancies, and will phase-in the prohibition over an accelerated one-year period. That means all smoking ceases in multifamily properties by January 1, 2019. Read the press release.
In my previous post I dispensed with the landlords’ disingenuous argument that the city’s business tax drives up their cost of operating rental housing. Their demand for a 7% allowed annual rent increase because of a 1.2% business tax is ridiculous on its face (and poor logic), I said. Then I closed with a question: the landlords complain about the business tax, but how many actually pay it? I surveyed rental properties in my neighborhood and found that 1-in-10 landlords not only pay no tax, they aren’t even licensed to conduct business, according to city records.