City Holds Rent Stabilization Education Workshops

On Thursday Beverly Hills wrapped up the second of two rent stabilization ‘education workshops.’ Residents and landlords were invited to these town-hall events to learn about major changes to the city’s rent-stabilization law (read about the changes in the ordinance). This is tenants first opportunity to hear directly from city officials about how the new policies will affect us.

Workshop questionsThe city’s first rent stabilization education workship was an all-hands effort! Community Development Department director Susan Healy Keene tee’d up the policy changes, then Community Preservation (aka code enforcement) Manager Nestor Otazu described the particulars. Standing by in the municipal gallery were Community Services staffer Jim Latta and City Attorney Larry Wiener to field the legal questions.

I attended both the Saturday morning and Thursday evening workshops and found them generally informative. Saturday’s morning session, however, was sparsely attended by tenants and there were relatively few tenant questions. Luckily I had a few of my own! Still, the paltry turnout is surprising given the large impact that rent stabilization may have on more than 8000 tenant households in Beverly Hills. (Is nobody interested?)

Education workshop in the municipal galleryThere are one-eighth as many properties and even fewer landlords, yet the landlords outnumbered tenants at the two sessions. And they had many questions about how the new policy would affect them. Such as: Could they exceed the allowed annual 3% rent increase? (Answer: Yes, if they apply through the city’s new rent-adjustment process).

No tenant asked, however, Why is there no provision in the policy for a rent adjustment downward? Santa Monica and West Hollywood’s adjustment processes allow for such a review on a tenant’s request.

At the Thursday evening workshop (above) tenants were much more vocal and the give-and-take with staff was more vigorous (watch the video).

Yet I was disappointed that some of my specific questions were answered incompletely (despite persistent follow-ups) which makes me wonder if other tenants were satisfied. (I admit I’m a power user of the new policy.) When I get my answers I will post my own FAQ section here on Renters Alliance.

City Outreach Was Long Overdue!

Four months ago, City Council approved the rent stabilization policy which included several very significant changes (like the 3% annual increase cap). Yet City Hall didn’t do an effective job of communicating the changes to residents. A flyer went out about the new policy, but frequently-asked-questions documents were slow to get an update. Even the Rights and Responsibilities handbook published by the city and required of landlords when renting an apartment was very slow to get revised. Until this week the handbook (a pamphlet really) only offered with a disclaimer:

Tenant Landlord Rights and Responsibilities OLD coverWorse still, for too long the rent stabilization webpage was poorly-organized and rife with problems that would have been quick to remedy. This week the Community Development Department did post a rent stabilization website refresh. (It still needs improvement.)

Some hiccups can be expected, of course. Community Development Department was suddenly tasked with implementing a program from scratch. Our city really had no program to ensure that landlords complied with our rent laws. So the department had to locate and hire consultants to build up systems; had to design a pubic outreach process (which includes these workshops); and still has to field tough questions (and for some no answers are not immediately evident because it’s new policy terrain).

Moreover, the rent stabilization policy process has moved quickly. There remains some disagreement about the effects of the policy changes themselves, and outside City Hall, not surprisingly, some landlords and tenants are slow to get the news. So these education workshops were, at times, a somewhat tense elementary review of the new policy.

But the most difficult part is yet ahead and it is political, not procedural. We have to establish a final rent stabilization policy. Toward that end, Council gave the OK last week to Professor Sukhsimranjit Singh, from Pepperdine, as our facilitator for landlord-tenant dialogues. He attended Thursday night’s workshop and seems to both understand and embrace the challenge.

In the meantime keep your questions about the new policy coming. That’s the only way we’ll be prepared with our agenda for the best renter protections that Council will afford us.

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