The Rent Stabilization Ordinance requires landlords to register their rental units with the city. That includes ownership and management information, property information, utilities and amenities included, and most important the current rent amount. The city has mailed notice to landlords so tenants will soon be contacted. That is an opportunity to contest the reported rent or tacitly verify it. Tenants, pay attention! We want all rents accurately reported. Here we review the purpose of the registry and the why it is so important to certify an accurate rent.
About the Registry
The rental unit registry is a city database that collects and tracks important information about landlords, properties and tenancies. (This registration regulations shows what the city is asking of landlords, and it is the minimum amount of information necessary to administer the rent stabilization program.) Each year the city requires the landlord to re-register each property and upon re-renting it at any point in the year they must update their registry record. As the Municipal Code says:
A landlord must register every rental unit that is subject to the provisions of this chapter within thirty (30) days of receipt of notice from the City that registration is required, unless the rental unit is specifically exempt…When a rental unit is rerented after a vacancy, the landlord must reregister the unit with the City within thirty (30) days after the rerental. A landlord must file a registration amendment with the City within thirty (30) days of a change in a rental unit’s ownership or management, or a change in the owner’s or manager’s contact information. — BHMC 4–6–10
A registry is essential if we are to hold landlords accountable and that is why they opposed it. Prior to the rental unit registry it was the Wild West for landlords in Beverly Hills. City Hall didn’t keep a close eye on landlords who raised the rent after a no-just-cause eviction. There was scant attention to substandard conditions and certainly no interest in learning about landlord retaliation for a tenant’s complaint. City Hall didn’t even know how many rental properties were operating in the city.
Just a few years ago the city was on the precipice of adopting a registry but the landlord industry association was able to defeat it. This time around they weren’t so influential (even though they filed a federal lawsuit to block it). Today the registry is the backbone of our rent stabilization program.
We want the registry to accurately reflect the state of rental housing in Beverly Hills because it is an important resource for city officials when it comes to making policy. It is also a factual resource when a rent is disputed or there is some question about housing services like parking.
The registry also requires landlords to register as a business and pay their business tax. That was always the law, of course, but our analysis in 2017 showed that perhaps 1-in–10 landlords had not registered as a business and didn’t pay any local tax. That has changed with the registry.
Why is the Certified Rent Important?
Among the most important functions of the registry is to establish a ‘certified’ rent for each unit. That number, also called the base rent, is used to calculate subsequent allowable annual rent increases.
There are cases where the reported rent and the paid rent are not reconcilable. We know of landlords who persuade tenants to agree to a certain rent (what is on the lease) but then accept a smaller amount in cash. The effect is to inflate the bottom line for a buyer or lender.
Tenants with cash-discounted rents or rents paid entirely in cash without receipts should look very carefully at the rent reported by the landlord. The city put an end to no-just-cause termination last fall so the risk to the tenant of reporting an inaccurate or fraudulent rent is much diminshed.
Rent overcharges are not uncommon but they should be ferreted out and disclosed to the city during the rent appeals window. The tenant should be able to recover the overcharge.
The lesson: rental unit registration is an opportunity to contest any rent amount that is the product of an unlawful rent increase no matter how long ago it occurred.
For those reluctant to get involved in an appeal, know that retaliation can’t happen easily today because no-just-cause has been outlawed; and because the city will be very sensitive to any landlord effort to retaliate in response to a city-mandated process like registration.
What to Expect?
Notices went out to landlords on January 2nd and they have 30 days to register all units. Tenants will subsequently be informed of the rent amount as reported by the landlord and can agree with the reported figure (the tenant need take no action) or she can report a discrepancy.
Though the reported rent and the paid rent may match, Renters Alliance urged tenants not to simply let the matter drop. The annual registration period is a great time to carefully examine the reported rent amount.
- Does it include charges rolled into the monthly rent but which are actually separate charges added on to the ‘base’ rent?
- Does the history of rent increases since the lease was signed look in order — or have there been apparent unlawful rent increases that have over time unlawfully inflated the rent?
- Have any increases occurred more frequently than once every twelve months?
Again, take this opportunity to dig out the lease and review past records of payment. Look for any instance where the increase was more than allowed by law no matter how far back it may go and more frequently than allowed by law. And how much was allowed by law?
Please review our new tenant resource, Rental Unit Registration is the Key to Rent Stabilization, for more information about lawful rent increases and for more about the registration and appeals process.
Renters Alliance welcomes any examples of a reported rent differing from an actual rent. Let us know what the city said when contacted about a discrepancy.
- The landlord, 152 South Peck LLC, had been warned fifteen years earlier to remove an illegal basement unit. But landlord representative (and apparent owner) Ross Vaisburd restored the illegal unit. That was not the only problem at 152 South Peck. The basement unit did not meet the city’s code for habitable. There were utility billing improprieties. There were fire violations in the basement hall. And there was an AirBnB business operating in four units and apparently organized by the building manager. It took dogged tenant-side determination to force the city’s hand to crack down on the illegal unit and fight for the tenant’s relocation fee. ↩