Moderate-income households take it on the chin in today’s tight rental housing market. Demand for rental apartments is rising because high housing costs have pushed more families to rent. Now our region is attracting employers paying higher salaries and those job-takers need housing too. Yet Beverly Hills has not meaningfully increased the supply of apartments over the decades, and when housing is built it is predominantly luxury condominiums. We take a look at one recent development to see how these dynamics play out to the disadvantage of residents who rent in Beverly Hills.
When a tenant receives a cash-for-keys buyout offer her logical question would be whether the money is worth the trouble of moving. Today’s Westside market is tight and the cash may not stretch as far as she would like. But is that even the right question to ask? Rather the tenant with a buyout offer in hand should ask, What is my vacancy worth to the landlord? As it turns out, quite a bit.
The city has identified two objectives for rent stabilization: to enhance the stability of renting households and to maintain and improve rental housing. But when landlords put profit before maintenance neither objective is accomplished. There is no clearer sign of disinvestment in housing than a tarp on the roof. And it comes at the expense of our community and the apartment houses we call home.
Last week City Council voted to make landlords and tenants a majority on our own commission and to task that commission with discussing the policy specifics of the next rent stabilization ordinance. That is a big change in direction, but we wouldn’t it from a visit to the city’s rent stabilization program website! In lieu of a recap of that recent development, the website still posts the announcement for last week’s meeting…as if it were still upcoming.
There isn’t even is a posted link to the meeting video. This communication breakdown is not new. We’ve griped about the lack of outreach. Where is the RSO bulletin or newsletter? Where is the monthly or quarterly email update? Where are the tenants’ rights seminars?
The Community Development Department’s webpage needs some help too. The mission is too focused on code enforcement and development and not enough on ‘community.’
Communication is simply not job #1 but it should be. Check out Santa Monica’s rent stabilization webpage. There is just a ton of information there. Or West Hollywood’s RSO webpage. Packed with news-you-can-use! Beverly Hills need not reinvent the wheel. Crib this stuff!
Why keep tenants better informed? It keeps us engaged. Give us a simple process timeline so where know where we are. Let us know what are the next steps as the process changes. At least let us know that the city has not dropped the ball on rent stabilization.
Finally, it is not only the rent stabilization program that’s falling down on what should be job #1. Its the city’s whole communication apparatus. How often does City Hall communicate with you? Hardly ever. Even the city’s weekly online newscast (vimeo) gives us the cold shoulder. Rent stabilization affects 7,700 households in Beverly Hills but you wouldn’t know it from Beverly Hills This Week. Not a mention of it over the past ten weeks.
Here is the message that SoCalGas has for Dr. Stephen Copen’s tenants at 152 South Reeves: Pay up the $1,359 your landlord owes or we’ll shut off your gas. Helpfully this NOTICE TO TENANTS lets residents know that they could take this burden off the landlord by assuming “individual or joint responsibility” for the account (and then be on the hook for the money). Tenants could then deduct the arrears from the rent. Good luck with that!
There are many issues up for discussion at the Tuesday City Council meeting, but among the most important for Chapter 6 tenants is the proposed 3.5% floor on the maximum allowed annual rent increase. Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 tenants may be increased annually by the percentage change in consumer prices (CPI) but with a crucial difference: only Chapter 6 tenants could see their rent increased as much as 3.5% in any year even when the landlord’s costs don’t increase at all. This is nothing more than a City Council subsidy to landlords and it should be removed from our rent stabilization ordinance.
Rent day is an opportune moment to revisit City Council’s proposal to raise to 3.5% the floor on the range for the maximum allowed annual rent for Chapter 6 tenants. At the last meeting, councilmembers appeared ready to allow landlords a 3.5% increase even inflation is low and landlords’ costs hardly increase. As Councilmember Bob Wunderlich honestly described it, this is a straight-up subsidy. Indeed it is an unearned bonus that every tenant would have to pay should Council agree to keep a floor in place.
The rent stabilization websites for West Hollywood and Santa Monica are chock-full of news-you-can-use: tenant-specific workshops (both basic and advanced), archived program newsletters, FAQs on topics like pets and security deposits and much more. Each city also provides a well-organized overview of the rent stabilization ordinance as well as state tenancy law. Why not Beverly Hills?
The Rent Stabilization Ordinance requires landlords to register their rental units with the city. That includes ownership and management information, property information, utilities and amenities included, and most important the current rent amount. The city has mailed notice to landlords so tenants will soon be contacted. That is an opportunity to contest the reported rent or tacitly verify it. Tenants, pay attention! We want all rents accurately reported. Here we review the purpose of the registry and the why it is so important to certify an accurate rent.
City Council will revisit rent stabilization at its upcoming February 5th meeting wherein agreement could be reached on the next rent stabilization ordinance. Key policy choices lie ahead. But behind us have been some hasty decisions by Council, though, which is why some tenants at the December 18th meeting urged councilmembers to press the ‘pause’ button. At that meeting City Council agreed, but continued to discuss several issues. Some consensus emerged but other issues were set aside for further analysis and debate. This is our recap of that December 18th meeting.
El Nino is back! The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued a flash flood advisory with as much as a half-inch to three-quarter-inch of rain expected into Friday. Our days of nearly nonstop rain means that water leaks can strike. Leaks from broken windows. Improperly sealed air conditioners. From the roof behind cupboards and in closets. Not every landlord is responsive to a complaint about a water leak even thought the law is clear: the rental agreement implies a warranty of habitability, and that means proper weatherproofing. Let’s recap the remedies available to the tenant if the premises don’t meet that standard.
A tenant advocate’s highest praise is to be called out by a landlord in print or in a public forum for being a “zealot” or a “dog-and-pony show orchestrator”. It is even more gratifying to be the focus of an amateur gumshoe investigation that purports to uncover some measure of hypocrisy for calling for a sustainable rent stabilization ordinance. Behold this letter to Apartment Age magazine from a local landlord. It’s practically an expose!
Vice-Mayor John Mirisch posted a rhetorical question on Instagram: Do Communists celebrate Christmas? “The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles evidently thinks so. They sent our mayor a ‘present’ equating our efforts to craft a rent stabilization ordinance with Communism.” The Apartment Association likes to equate rent control with socialism but the ‘red scare’ tactic invokes the specter of Leninism. That implies no classes, no private property and of course no religion. So it is ironic indeed to make a Christmas gift of the Communist Manifesto!
The New York Times today published another installment in its year-long series focused on predatory landlords and the damage they do to tenants. ‘Bad Landlords Dodge Full Bite of a Watchdog’ drills down to learn why recidivist property owners aren’t held accountable by City of New York: lax enforcement, paltry penalties, and a bureaucracy insufficiently committed to protecting tenants. Sound familiar?
One of the most common disputes between landlords and tenants concerns the tenant’s security deposit. The law allows for deductions from the deposit under certain circumstances (such as when the apartment is damaged or left unclean after move-out) but an unprofessional or unscrupulous landlord can make unwarranted claims in order to withhold part or all of it. Check out our new About that Security Deposit page to learn more about how to protect yourself from an unscrupulous landlord.
Here is a sight nobody wants to see early on a Friday morning before Christmas: a Sheriff’s deputy probably on his way to serve a tenant his notice to vacate. It is heartbreaking to see it in my neighborhood and even worse to see it on the next block. The only thing worse is the Sheriff showing up for a lock-out. The notice to vacate is the penultimate step. When the Sheriff shows up, that means time is up.
One of the more interesting proposals to emerge from the City Council’s rent stabilization discussion concerns a benefit for a ‘qualified subset’ of tenants who pay a low-dollar rent to pay more than 30% of household income in rent. An estimated 400 households under the program could ‘qualify’ for a cash subsidy to cushion rent increases. Councilmember Bob Wunderlich proposed it as a way of focusing rent control on “those who really need it” and Council supported it. Yet now it seems pushed to the back burner.
There is an important step in the policy process where the needs of the public are served or thwarted by hidden hands: when a staff report and draft ordinance is presented to City Council. A draft ordinance should reflect the broad intent of City Council but also nail down the policy particulars necessary to codify Council direction into law. Sometimes there are surprises. I call these Easter eggs.
City Council recently discussed the maximum allowed annual rent increase. The good news is that councilmembers agreed to keep it indexed to the annual change in consumer prices (CPI). We can call that a win! The bad news is that Council will keep it at 100% of CPI. That generates the allowed increases of 4.1% and 3.8% (for Chapter 6 and for Chapter 5 tenants respectively). That more than is necessary to provide the landlord with a ‘fair return’ under the law.
Beverly Hills City Council appears ready to exempt ‘luxury’ units from the reach of the city’s rent stabilization ordinance. Along with the exemption for duplexes this represents another major break from the past. Since 1978 the ordinance has applied to every unit in multifamily rental properties of 2-units or more. That will further change if City Council embraces a ’luxury’ unit exemption because tenants paying higher rents would be denied tenant protections. Will you be affected?