Tenant Protection Rollbacks Take a Shellacking

City Council came in for some bruising this week from the Courier, which took the city to task for rolling back some tenant protections at the November 20th RSO study session. The Courier has done a good job of tracking the rent stabilization policy process through twenty months of Council and commission meetings, facilitated dialogues and urgency ordinances. In the same issue the Council’s action comes in for criticism from Steve Mayer and Thomas White, both longtime community advocates. And I recap in my letter to the editor my top concerns. (I reprint it here.)

To the Editor:

Nearly two years ago, Beverly Hills did a great service to residents: in unanimous votes City Council reduced the cap on Chapter 6 rent increases to 3%; mandated relocation fees to assist involuntarily-terminated tenants with replacement housing; and ended no-just-cause terminations. The city next year will begin to subsidize rents for lowest-income tenants too.

The city took other positive steps by funding a housing legal services program and creating a new rent commission to adjudicate some aspects of tenancy (and to mediate tenant-landlord disputes). Where prior City Councils were completely unresponsive to tenant needs this Council stepped up.

However our councilmembers subsequently weakened protections for tenants in several important respects. The rollbacks are ready to be cemented into a new rent stabilization ordinance.

Almost immediately after the relocation fees were established, they were reduced by one-third. Today the fees top out at $12,902 for 2-bedroom tenants — down $6,000 from the original fee amount. The 2-bedroom top-tier fee will not help residents of 3-bedroom and 4-bedroom apartments where the rent averages $3,900 and $5,000 (respectively). Because Council did not add a 3-bedroom fee, those families will come up short when it’s time to pull together the first & last month plus security deposit and moving expenses.

City Council recently decided to dole out those relocation fees piecemeal if a landlord displaces a tenant in order to move in a family member. The displaced household now will receive only 10% of the relocation fee for each year in the unit. We know from the rental registry that nearly 600 households have three or fewer years of tenure. Those displaced families would not even net one-third of the relocation fee if displaced even though they bear the full costs of replacement housing and a move. Nearly 5,000 households are resident for fewer than 10 years; none will get the full fee if displaced.

Moreover, Council interpreted ‘relative’ broadly to include parents, siblings, children AND grandchildren — any one among those four generations could send a renting household packing.

Council also walked back the end to no-just-cause eviction. Now there is a new ‘disruptive tenant’ reason for termination and it is a weaker standard than what is used by the courts. Those terminations will be heard locally by a rent commission. It’s designed to be a less onerous and faster for the landlord, but Council decided that tenants could initiate a termination too. Be kind to your neighbors lest they haul you before the commission for termination (without a relocation fee)!

Even worse, Council decided to make each and every new tenancy probationary. Before the lease is up the landlord can decide not to renew (or let the tenant go month-to-month) so long as the tenant gets six months notice. That’s a major step back from the current policy. So new tenants should think twice about unpacking those boxes. She could get a notice as soon as six months after moving that it’s time to start looking for a new place (and again without the assistance of a relocation fee).

Perhaps the most significant walk-back from current tenant protections is the exemption from capped rent increases for duplexes and high-rent tenants. As many as 211 renting households in duplexes could see the 4.1% cap on rent increases eliminated if the owner lives next door. The owner could be an individual, a member of his family, a beneficiary of a family trust, or even a partner in a limited partnership. Yes it is that broad.

High-rent tenants will also see the cap disappear. That’s true whether they rent a studio or a unit with any number of bedrooms. Above some as-yet undecided threshold the tenant will now pay whatever the landlord demands (or have to move). Once exempted a family has no cap at all – not even the old 10% cap. “The sky’s the limit,” Mayor Gold said enthusiastically.

These rollbacks to tenant protections will get a final airing at City Council on December 18th when a draft ordinance will be brought forward. Now is the time to speak up.

Mark Elliot, Beverly Hills Renters Alliance

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