City of Beverly Hills recently convened two Community Education Workshops where staff provided both tenants and landlords information about the rent stabilization ordinance. Community Preservation Manager Nestor Otazu walked though the recent changes and highlighted some key aspects of state law that apply to those who rent housing and those who provide it. Here is our takeaway.
It had been a year since the Community Development Department last convened a Community Education Workshop last June. Back then the changes to the rent stabilization ordinances like the 3% cap on annual increases and new relocation fees were still fresh and the workshop addressed them.
Now there is much new ground to cover:
- There now exists a rental unit registry;
- The rent stabilization program is up and running with a new office in City Hall;
- City Council funded a new position for the program director; and,
- An economic consultant is studying rent stabilization and the findings will inform some kind of final rent stabilization policy.
However there are some caveats. The program’s office is still under-resourced and most employees are temps; and the director position remains unfilled eight months (!) after Council gave the OK for a hire.
The workshop enumerated some key topics that will be central to the City Council this fall:
- Relocation fees (how they may be calculated and who will most benefit);
- Allowed rent increase (how it could be determined and who should be protected);
- Rent ‘banking’ (where rent hikes are deferred but recouped in future years);
- The ’fair return’ standard (which dictates eligibility for a landlord’s supplemental rent increase);
- Exemptions for 4-unit and smaller buildings (which could remove tenant protections for one in seven households); and most crucially,
- No-just-cause eviction and whether the city should put a stop to it.
Finally the workshop described the next steps in the policy process. But take the city’s timeline with a grain of salt: no firm dates are announced. And there may be another facilitated dialogue.
What We Learned from the Workshop
From a close listen to the second year of Community Education Workshops we took away these points:
- The allowed annual increase for Chapter 6 tenants will soon go to 3.5% from today’s 3%. That’s no change in policy but instead reflects the change in consumer prices for the Los Angeles-Long Beach region since last year. According to the Chapter 6 municipal code, the allowed annual increase is the greater of either 3% or the CPI for our region. [Update: it went to 4.1%.]
- The allowed annual increase for Chapter 5 is still just 1.8%. Why is it so low when we’re all living with the same rise in consumer prices? Because the Chapter 5 rate is calculated according to an arcane formula so the rate calculated by the city never even comes close to CPI. [Update: the city had been calculating it incorrectly.]
- Rental units must be registered (or re-registered) every year, not only when vacated and re-rented. Instead every year, tenants receive another round of rent-amount verification letters in the mail and we have two opportunities to dispute an landlord-provided rent: once when the landlord registers the new tenancy and the rent is certified; and afterward upon request.
- Negotiations between a tenant and landlord cannot contravene the municipal code. Neither party can negotiate an increase higher than the current allowed increase and a landlord can’t pressure a tenant to give up a provided housing service (parking, laundry, etc.) without reducing the rent. Staff said a landlord who wants to offer a voluntary tenant buyout can’t offer less than the prescribed relocation fee.
- The tenant coming to the end of her fixed-term lease is not eligible for relocation fees if the landlord will not renew the lease OR allow the tenant to transition to month-to-month. Moreover, the landlord is not obligated to notify the tenant should he not intend to renew; nor need he indicate his intention when asked. [Update: this was incorrect information. Notice is required, and declining to allow a tenant to transition to month-to-month is an involuntary termination that obligates the relocation fee.]
- Notice of involuntary termination can be cut to just 30 days if any tenants have taken in a co-tenant (or “any occupant”) in the 12 months prior to the termination. (We actually reminded the city of this state law provision.) And of course a relocation is to be divided, so be careful with taking on a roommate!
- Community Education Workshops are expected to be held quarterly. We’ll see! [Update: it didn’t happen.]
If you were not able to attend these workshops you can catch the main points in the PowerPoint presentation. More background and some answers to tenants’ questions can be found in this the video from last year’s event. Download this recap of the 2017 workshop Q-and-A (for some reason it’s no longer posted to the city’s website).
Our View on the 2nd Community Education Workshop
Here is our summary takeaway. For more read ‘Missing from Community Education Workshops: Tenant Empowerment.’
The good. The presentation was relatively comprehensive and much more detailed relative to last year’s workshop. The PowerPoint presentation alone is a useful summation of our current rent stabilization law. And the broader context was a reminder that the current 3% cap will certainly bump-up soon while and rent cap and other important tenant protections like relocation fees may change once Council acts this fall.
The bad. The presentation occasionally bogged down in details and the discussion sometimes veered into the weeds. That’s OK: most attendees were there for question-and-answer. And the questions surfaced important issues but sometimes the responses were not clear. State and local tenancy law leaves tenants with many questions but city documents don’t touch all the bases and this once-yearly question-and-answer session can’t do it either.
The ugly: ‘Community education’ is not the same as tenant empowerment. Where other cities provide separate sessions for tenants and landlords, Beverly Hills combines them. That’s good for city expenses but not for tenants who need specific information about their rights and responsibilities and protections accorded by law.
Tenants do not need studied neutrality or carefully modulated language; we need blunt talk about how we can protect our own rights. We didn’t get that in these community education workshops, however, which suggests the need for something different going forward.