Letter to Council From the Tenants Committee

We on the tenants committee have read Professor Singh’s summary report and commend his considerable time-investment and efforts to familiarize himself with the city’s rent stabilization policies. We particularly appreciate Professor Singh’s sensitivity to tenants’ concerns about the power imbalance. That concern makes reconsideration of no-just-cause eviction for us a priority. Read the tenants’ position on that policy and others in our open letter to City Council.

Dear Mayor Bosse and members of the City Council:

Last month we on the committee were disappointed that the Management Partners program prescription for the rent stabilization program was not supported by Council. Our committee has reached out to tenants and we find broad support for a well-resourced program. We hope you will consider our comments in your discussion this evening.

Rent Stabilization Program & Registry

‘Bureaucracy’ is not a dirty word. We’ve heard a lot from landlords about ‘bureaucracy,’ ‘bureaucrats,’ and ‘paper-pushers.’ But where landlords see “waste” as they call it, we tenants see additional protections and (finally) a measure of accountability from those who house us. A properly-staffed program and an essential registry at its core will reflect your commitment to households that rent.

The city must properly resource the program. Doing it on the cheap is no longer workable. Residents who rent in Beverly Hills now know the extent to which neighboring cities protect their tenants. As we know, here more than three-quarters of all tenant complaints are never filed (according to staff). Yet no tenant should pay an unlawful rent or be denied housing services simply due to the fear of a no-just-cause eviction or another form of retaliation. A well-resourced program will pay dividends in city-stakeholder communications too.

The rent stabilization program can (and should) be self-sustaining. Independence is crucial to the success of any rent stabilization program. To that end, we believe that our program should be revenue-neutral by design. There is no need to tap the General Fund when tenants are willing to pay for the protections that we need. And if tenants pay half of the cost (as they do in other cities) then the landlords should step up too with a few bucks every month for the program.

Rent stabilization will likely produce ancillary benefits. With business licensing not only required but now enforced, the city should expect a significant increase in business tax revenue. Through a registry, the city can verify actual rents and thus levy the business tax not on estimated gross receipts but real gross receipts. While not an objective of the program, of course, we all should welcome this long-deserved, but long-deferred, tax windfall.

A properly-staffed rent stabilization program should include public outreach and education. We’ve heard calls from both landlords and tenants for better education. We’ve found that tenant workshops and data reporting are hallmarks of every successful rent stabilization program. These should be fundamental features of our own program too. But we need city staff to collect and analyze that data. Here’s a caution: our recent General Plan Housing Element update included responses from a citywide survey of residents about housing conditions. Fewer than 25 people responded. If the city wants to understand housing conditions and market forces, then we simply can’t do it on-the-cheap any longer.

Finally, our committee believes that a provisionally-funded rent stabilization program is short-sighted. We can look to many other programs to understand that a well-regulated rental housing market returns clear benefits to both tenants and to the city. Funding the program at half-price, using majority temporary labor as proposed, will not secure for tenants in Beverly Hills the protections that we need. And it certainly won’t support robust data collection & analysis, housing inspections, and code enforcement that our community demands.

A Note on Mediation

We appreciate Professor Singh’s diligent efforts to find consensus among tenants and landlords though his seven facilitated dialogues. We agreed with landlords on some points, but agreement on some others proved elusive. The summary report accurately reflects many of the discussions. However, while mediation may try to reconcile differences, sometimes a mediated solution may not be the objectively correct one; or it may not even the best one. That is a ‘process limitation’ that has impeded our finding agreement with landlords on the rent change. Tenants continue to support a rational and objective basis for an allowed annual rent change rather than agree to a fixed percentage.

We on the tenants committee look forward to tonight’s Council discussion to learn more about the city’s continued commitment to our rent stabilization program.

Sincerely,

Tenants Committee