City Council (Finally) Adopts Registry Resolution

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.

The Council-approved resolution is deceptively straightforward: it simply concerns “regulations and procedures for the registration of rental units and the certification of rents.” With barely 160 words it establishes the foundation of the new rent stabilization program in Beverly Hills.

But the plain language obscures the potentially far-reaching effects of having all housing provider businesses, their properties, and key aspects of their tenancies (like rents) finally documented. Because without that information, wouldn’t tenants be stuck with the same complaint-driven system that’s proven insufficient to the task of regulating rental housing in Beverly Hills?

Of course. Isn’t that precisely the motivation behind the furious campaign by landlords to shut down the registry?

Harvey Miller
Harvey Miller: “There was no emergency.”

That’s what landlord Harvey Miller told City Council in early September. “Our suggestion is to improve the bureaucracy that you have in place….Improve the complaint based system” rather than spend “$1 million in the first nine months” to get the program up and running. Landlord Matthew Finerman agreed. “Spend the money by helping [Community Preservation Manager and code enforcement chief] Nestor Otazu.”

Aside from helpful suggestions, landlords simply argued that the city’s rent stabilization program was borne from a flawed premise. “The RSO was enacted on the basis of an alleged emergency,” said landlord Harvey Miller then, “but we as landlords do not believe an emergency existed.” The theme was picked up by the lobbyist from the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. “There was no emergency – just anecdotal stories.”

Jon Luca
Jon Luca: “Delay until we get more advice.”

Landlord (and retired judge) Elia Weinbach at the September 5th meeting impugned the city’s interpretation of the state’s Petris Act (which pertains to localities that certify rents under rent stabilization). “It’s a flawed legal analysis,” he told Council bluntly. “My proposal is that you hire an independent attorney to tell you that the City Attorney’s analysis is incorrect.” Aligning with that argument, landlord Jon Luca urged “delay until we get more advice.”

Larry Weiner, City Attorney
City Attorney Larry Wiener sets the landlords straight about the temporary restraining order: it’s full speed ahead.

Others spoke darkly about the consequences of the city’s initiative to better regulate rental housing. Writer Gary Weiss has titled his new yarn “The New Slums of Beverly Hills.” But he’s also a landlord. So he cited as his “rising costs” a ledger’s worth of expenses that should already be built into his base rents. They included maintenance, repairs, debt service, taxes, insurance, and “replacing major components such as roves and water heaters.” His premise evidently: that his tenants should cover his costs both in their rent AND then again when they pay their rent increase (closer to 10% than 3% you can be sure). He added, “We will loose our building in the next two years!” The touch of hyperbole just puts a fine point on his urgent argument to roll back rent stabilization.

Landlord Kevin Davis (and representative of the Beverly Hills Property Owners Association) played it cooler. “Wouldn’t it be enlightening to know the income of the tenants in Beverly Hills?” he asked with some amusement. “I did a study of tenants’ income,” he said, and then went on to enumerate the approximate incomes of his own tenants. Classy! Evidently Davis doesn’t share his fellow landlords’ concern for tenants privacy (that was their original argument against the registry, after all): he said he favored a citywide census of tenant incomes prior to making rent stabilization policy.

Despite all of the bellowing, City Council moved on to the next agenda item with lightening speed. No tenant had spoken up — we didn’t need to add anything at all. Council took a quick roll call vote. Done!