In the Dark: Tenants Go Without a Word from City

It has been ten months since City Council kicked-off the rent stabilization policy process yet next steps remain unclear. Officials have gone to ground since City Council approved the rental unit registry in September (without even a press release to show for it). We hear nothing from City Hall; no staffer provides an update at Council meetings. No official appears on the Beverly Hills This Week TV program to explain what’s next. Many thousands of households rent. Why keep us in the dark?

It isn’t just the renting households that are out of the loop. Even the city’s Human Relations commissioners have expressed bewilderment at being kept in the dark. “We are in Limbo,” said Human Relations Commission Chair Gerald Friedman at the October meeting. “The public thinks we’re involved, and Council has indicated that [rent stabilization issues] might come back to us….But I want clarification.”

Tenant landlord forumVice-Chair Sonia Berman agreed: the commission at least deserved an update as to where things stand. The commission discussed rent stabilization policy particulars for 18 months yet has been largely cut out of the discussion. (The Chair and Vice-Chair in a highly unusual public comment told City Council they were sidestepped.)

Notably Vice-Chair Berman was frank when noting that a proposed tenant-landlord committee would undercut the commission’s tenant-landlord forum (it provides a venue for parties to air grievances). “That would be off of our plate – and we had no teeth anyway.” Berman added, ”We may have outlived our usefulness.”

To the public, the last substantive discussion about rent stabilization came as long ago as February. Council had agreed to keep the 3% cap on allowed annual rent increases (for Chapter 6 tenants) and mandated relocation fees for any tenancy that is involuntarily terminated. (Read more about those changes.)
But in the meanwhile the policy process has inched along. City Council has heard from no fewer than 214 speakers to date, yet there is no effective outreach to us.

At the same time, tenants say their questions can’t find a timely answer. One reported waiting three months for a city follow-up on a code enforcement inspection.

Communication tools need help too. The Ask Bev system that is supposed to provide a means for the public to access City Hall was outmoded even on the day it was introduced more than a decade ago. Even the Rent Stabilization Program’s website email link (where tenants could contact staff) was mis-formatted for a full month after Renters Alliance reported it as broken.

For the public there remains no small degree of uncertainly about the direction that City Council may take rent stabilization policy. How many times have we heard a landlord say that tenants could simply “downsize” or perhaps move to Hawaiian Gardens if the rent rises too high? Any change presents significant financial and lifestyle implications for tenants. We need to be kept in the loop on policy decisions that will affect half of all households in Beverly Hills for decades.