Tenants score a big win at City Council!

Beverly Hills City Council felt your pain. Last night, we tenants secured from sympathetic councilmembers greatly-expanded protections. Gone are 10% rent increases. Gone are evictions without relocation fees. In a Council meeting that stretched to midnight and beyond, we heard some tales of landlord hardship but many more persuasive accounts of how tenants invest in our communities only to be tossed out summarily or handed a slow-motion eviction order in the form of successive, capricious rent hikes. At 1a.m. City Council used a seldom-invoked ‘urgency ordinance’ to approve several critical reforms to our rent stabilization ordinances.

Let’s Cut To The Chase!

ALL TENANTS in rental units (sans condos or single-family homes) in Beverly Hills will enjoy the following protections from TODAY forward:

  • The maximum allowable annual rent increase is reduced to about 3% even for renters who have been served with an increase but have not yet begun paying the higher amount. So, no more household-busting 10% hikes every year.
  • Substantial relocation payments for terminations will be offered and – wait for it – modeled on Santa Monica’s strong rent control law. These are intended as a disincentive to landlords inclined toward no-cause evictions. So, no empty-handed goodbye and wan smile from the landlord anymore.
  • Significant additional relocation will be added money for seniors, disabled or children in the household. So, those who have made greater rental commitments (kids in schools, long-term tenure, or those on fixed-incomes) gain additional consideration.
  • A new database and registry of landlords & units will allow for city monitoring of rental arrangements citywide. So, no more excuses as to why your landlord re-rented your unit to your without disclosing the mold litigation undertaken by the previous tenant.

City Council resisted the appeals from landlords to carve-out protections for only for some tenants. These protections start NOW.

There’s A New Sheriff In Town

This fall we watched as Human Relations Commission staffers (not the commissioners) tapped the brakes on reform with some go-slow tactics that would have stalled reform for another decade. Then, just last night we heard our City Manager play for more time on something as important as the rental unit registry. Even staff seemed happy to defer the reduction in the allowed allowed annual rent increase to some time indeterminate.

Lili Bosse was having none of it. “We want this done tonight,” she said.

Moreover, there was an effort to stick tenants with relocation payments to laughably small to even offer a helping hand to those evicted for no-just-cause. Certainly a couple of thousand bucks would not deter a landlord from evicting a tenant.Heck, the staff-proposed fee amounts have been on the books for Chapter 5 tenants for three decades – unchanged over the years because they were no indexed to cost-of-living increases. Yet there they were, proposed  by staff as part of the new policy.

“These are placeholder figures, right?” Bosse asked. Staff stammered in answering. She said, “It’s way too low. What does Santa Monica offer?” Thirty minutes later City Council had more than quadrupled them in line with Santa Monica’s fees.

Under the urgency ordinance, a no-just-cause eviction for a single or studio tenant will cost the landlord $9k. A one-bedroom eviction means the tenant(s) walk away with $13k. Two-bedroom households get $19k. If a senior, disabled or a kid is in the picture the landlord adds a few thousand more. And those protections begin right now.

It’s important to note that the new ordinance does not compensate retroactively. If you’ve been evicted you can’t be compensated after-the-fact with a relocation fee. If you’re already begun paying on an increase above the new 3% cap, you can’t turn back the clock and pay the lower increase. But if you were served with a 9.1% rent hike (as I was) the day before the meeting, the required 30-days advance notice allows the city to press the pause button on that increase. The landlord instead can come back with a fresh notice if he wants the now-allowed 3% maximum increase.

Also important to note: the new ordinance does not change for-cause eviction provisions. Tenants successfully evicted for cause have no additional recourse under the new policy. (But I still suggest you preemptively try to strike a deal with the landlord to negotiate some relocation assistance and keep the eviction action off of your record.)  Because a claim of non-payment is the easiest to substantiate in court against a tenant, I strongly suggest you secure a receipt for every rent payment or use electronic deposit to create a paper trail.

This Is Not Won-And-Done!

City Council must revisit this urgency ordinance within 45 days in order to issue a final (or interim) policy. Council has pledged to wrap up the process by March. While all councilmembers agree on protection from displacement and rent hikes, though, some had concerns about the 3% figure. Councilmember Julian Gold in particular urged caution as he looked to move more slowly on deciding the figure.

Your interest and continued participation is absolutely critical so that we end up with the rent stabilization reforms that Council adopted last night.

Time For Gratitude!

As Mayor John Mirisch said, “We’re not an enclave of the super rich – renters are an important part of our community and they’ve been pushed around.” Thank you!

Also rocking it was Lili Bosse. She kept the pedal to the medal.

Vice-Mayor Nancy Krasne has long highlighted tenant abuse and has been instrumental in putting the issue in the hands of the commission. Last night she asked each tenant who brought a sad story: “Who’s your landlord or property management company?” She was literally taking names #Trump style. She also pressed for a retroactive policy on the annual cap and relocation fees, but the City Attorney nixed it.

Councilmembers Kathy Reims and Julian Gold helped move this in the right direction too.

I should also thank the Human Relations Commission for trying to do the right thing. Despite staff’s go-slow approach over the past year, the commission recommended real protections for renters, and all five of them attended last night’s meeting. (Rarely does every member of a commission attend any City Council meeting.) Chair Gerald Friedman and Vice-Chair Sonia Berman stayed until the very end.

Most importantly, I thank EVERYONE who showed up at last night’s meeting (despite my last-minute notice) and thank those who took their time to send a comment to City Council (some anonymously – you know who you are!).

Renters are our own best advocates. It’s important that we stick together. And speaking of renter-advocates, let’s tip our hat to Ramin Zar. He’s been a tireless advocate for renters. He has stood up time-and-again for fair treatment especially for senior renters. He has attended countless city meetings. And he was in the house last night demanding that the city find a home for a no-cause-evicted senior member of our community (and brought his peeps with him too).

Finally, let’s remember that preservation and affordability go hand-in-hand. The least costly affordable housing we can provide is the housing that we don’t destroy. We owe a debt to Steve Mayer, Chris Hammond, Woody Clark and the rest of the Oakhurst Drive residents who – against all odds – prevailed on City Council to save their historically- significant buildings from the wrecking ball. They whipped planning-department enablers in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles who help developers swing those wrecking balls.

Remember: Renters vote. Together we account for a lot of votes. And this is an election year.

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