Beverly Hills City Council has ended no-just-cause eviction for residents in rental housing in the city. Council repealed this ‘original sin’ of our rent stabilization ordinance at RSO study session #2 using an urgency ordinance that took effect immediately. This is a three-decades in-the-making victory!
It happened at the October 18, 2018 rent stabilization study session #2 — the second of three meetings organized for City Council to discuss final changes to the rent stabilization ordinance. On the agenda was a raft of policies on which city staff needed direction: the magnitude of the allowed annual rent increase; exemptions to rent controls; new habitability standards perhaps; what to do about no-just-cause terminations and much more.
Residents Step Up
As soon as City Council opened public comment a successive speakers stepped to the microphone to talk about no-just-cause evictions. Renters Alliance organizer Mark Elliot brought a few neighbors to speak to Council but first set the stage with some introductory comments.
Those neighbors described how their landlord, Dr. Stephen Copen, who owns seven properties in the city, had capriciously evicted them for no-cause. Two were tenants at 458 South Roxbury; they were evicted in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Then there was the couple evicted from his 137 South Reeves property. Another Reeves neighbor evicted from 156 South Reeves wasn’t able to make it. But she was evicted the same night as the couple.
We were only four speakers into public comment but councilmembers clearly had heard enough. Councilmember Lili Bosse suggested an urgency ordinance to end no-just-cause terminations for good, and Vice-Mayor John Mirisch agreed. Two other councilmembers, Les Friedman and Bob Wunderlich, climbed aboard too. An urgency ordinance needs four votes to pass, and with four votes to end it a reluctant Mayor Gold made it unanimous.
“The Copen Ordinance”
For good measure Vice-Mayor Mirisch proclaimed it the “Copen Ordinance” and suggested that it be retroactive to protect the couple who had received the eviction notice the night of the previous Council study session. The public comment then proceeded and we were off to the races on yet another long but landmark rent stabilization meeting.
There is some backstory to the Copen Ordinance. Eighteen months earlier, in April of 2017, Dr. Stephen Copen had groused to City Council about a tenant who enjoyed her view of Roxbury Park yet she paid what he thought was a too-low rent. He had purchased the building shortly before and didn’t want to subsidize her. Copen suggested she downsize to a smaller apartment more in line with her budget.
Having evidently ruminated on it some more after he had addressed City Council, he then evicted her. She had lived there 30+ years. There was no reason necessary because it was a no-just-cause eviction.
In that same south Roxbury building lived another tenant, David Burke, who had participated in the rent stabilization dialogues that summer of 2017. However his concern about landlord retaliation prompted him to drop out. That was a well-founded fear: Copen had evicted tenants from his 136 South Roxbury property also.
Before long Dr. Copen sent him packing anyway in clear case of retaliation. The landlord’s attorney reminded David about his role as a tenant advocate. He and his family had lived there for 29 years.
Both David and his neighbor spoke to Council at this RSO study session about their experiences with no-just-cause eviction: lives turned-over and temporary accommodations. By then, landlord Stephen Copen was already known to City Council.
Then stepped to the microphone a young couple just off their honeymoon. A week earlier, on the evening of October 11th, the same night as the prior rent stabilization study session, she found taped to their door a 60-day notice. It was 10 p.m. and she called the landlord.
Copen evict them? muttered about his unhappiness with the City Council’s action at the meeting that night, and groused about how the city was taking away his rights. The notice went up just minutes after the meeting ended. And that was all the councilmembers needed to hear.
At Council direction, City Attorney Laurence Wiener drafted the urgency ordinance that same day and by evening it was signed at an impromptu and exceptional session of City Council called for the purpose.
The Council’s urgency ordinance #18-O–2762 signed October 18, 2018 reads:
Tenants who were or are residing in Chapter 6 units in the City have testified before the City Council that they are being evicted from their units, even though they are good tenants who pay their rent timely. This ordinance is designed to address this situation by eliminating the “no cause” evictions from Chapter 6 units and adding new “just cause” eviction requirements that must be satisfied in order to evict tenants from Chapter 6 units. — Ordinance
Compare that with the 31 words that failed to protect Chapter 6 tenants for three decades:
Written notice provided in accordance with state law shall be given to any tenant in order for a landlord to terminate the tenancy of a rental unit subject to this chapter. — BHMC 4–6–6
City Council had already considered ending no-just-cause termination. Just two weeks prior, the city’s consultant had produced a memo on the topic and for the first time ever City Council was provided real numbers: 56 families had been evicted for no cause since Council changed the rent stabilization ordinance in January of 2017. And the pace of no-just-cause terminations was accelerating.
Whatever the city data showed, it took real tenants with real stories of harassment to underscore the harm caused by three decades of no-just-cause terminations in Beverly Hills.
More Tenant Benefits are Slipped-In
The end to no-just-cause termination produced a crucial additional benefit for Chapter 6 tenants: a raft of protections long afforded to Chapter 5 households were quietly grafted into Chapter 6 of the rent stabilization ordinance. This was a HUGE win for tenants!
For example, Chapter 6 tenants now enjoy one-year’s notice for major remodeling; before there was no remodeling provision for those tenants: 60 days notice and they were out. Now many more protections apply!
Additional noticing requirements if the landlord will demolish or convert his property to condominiums — a long process that will probably mean an additional year in the dwelling. Before there was only 60 days notice and you’re gone.
When a landlord wants to withdraw his property from the rental market there is a minimum 120 days notice required and one year for senior tenants. And the city is now watching to make sure the landlord fully abides by the relevant laws.
None of these provisions applied to Chapter 6 tenants before they were grafted into the rent stabilization Chapter 6.
Why did it take so long to end no-just-cause?
Our city was grappling with the problem twenty years ago as an article in the BH Weekly noted back then. Because landlords wanted to keep no-just-cause termination on the books as a tool, they had their way until October 2018. And that’s because no prior City Council dared to change it.
So many households lost their rental housing for no reason only because prior councils could not summon the votes to end it. In ordinary business it takes just three of five votes; our current council voted unanimously.
As we approached this study session, though two rounds of landlord-tenant dialogues, landlords offered many arguments for keeping it but none were persuasive. They asked rhetorically,
Why would they terminate a tenant for no reason when it costs them a vacancy?
If it happens so often, where is the data on the extent of it?
How would they deal with a ‘problem’ tenant without it?
The most problematic aspect of no-just-cause evictions aside from the disruption is that it affords a tenant no opportunity to contest whatever the landlord’s allegation may be. There is no due process when there is no reason required for eviction. And that’s still the law throughout the state until a locality decides otherwise.
City Council did tenants a real service by ending no-just-cause termination. Had it happened sooner, though, there would be as many as 56 families that wouldn’t have had to find replacement housing. And we know that some of them, even those with children in the schools, had to leave Beverly Hills for good. [Update: City Council adopted the final non-urgency ordinance #18-O-2766 on December 18th.]