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 was our first opportunity to hear directly from city officials about how the new rent stabilization 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 while then Community Preservation (aka code enforcement) Manager Nestor Otazu dived into particulars. Standing by in the municipal gallery were Community Services staffer Jim Latta and City Attorney Larry Wiener to field the legal questions.

We 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 we had a few of our own to ask.) We were outnumbered by landlords even thought we are eight times as many households as owners. The difference: they know a pocketbook issue when they see one!

Landlords 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, though, asked why is there no provision in the ordinance for a downward rent adjustment? (Santa Monica and West Hollywood’s adjustment processes allow for such a review on a tenant’s request.)

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

This is Not the Workshop Tenants Need

We were disappointed that specific questions were answered incompletely (despite persistent follow-ups). Others were flubbed. Such as a key question about what happens if a landlord does not allow a tenant to go month-to-month after the lease expires. The correct answer is that the city views that as an involuntary termination and a relocation fee applies. But those at the workshop were told it was perfectly legal and the tenant would have to go without a relocation fee.

The real disappointment was that this was not a tenant education workshop like that offered by West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Los Angeles. In those cities the scope at the tenant workshop is limited to tenant concerns. And the emphasis is on tenant rights under the law.

In this workshop the city was careful to walk the line between tenants and landlords and that produced a seminar that was not really helpful to either.

The other disappointment was that the city’s outreach around the ordinance 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 posted. Even the Rights and Responsibilities handbook published by the city was slow to get an update.

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.)

So keep your questions about the new policy coming to Renters Alliance!