We Need More From the Rent Stabilization Program

The rent stabilization websites of West Hollywood and Santa Monica are chock-full of news-you-can-use: tenant-specific workshops, archived tenant newsletters, FAQs on topics like pets and security deposits and more. Each city provides a well-organized overview of the rent laws. Why can’t Beverly Hills better communicate with those who rent here?

The fact is that the city has often not been effective at communicating policies to the public: city webpages are often poorly-organized; content is stagnant; and broken links hang around for far too long. The problem is that residents, businesses and visitors are essentially user-testers for the city website: we find it, report it, and sometimes it gets fixed (other times it doesn’t).

Rent stabilization as a program calls for a more proactive approach, however, but it speaks to a real public interest: stable housing for those who rent. We need a better website and enhanced communication of RSO policies but that is not all. We need tenant education. Because a tenant educated about her rights is a tenant empowered to exercise them.

Some Observations

We need tenant education and outreach events. Our city’s most recent ‘community education workshop’ was focused on both landlords and tenants and served neither group well. And it was last convened in April of 2017. The only session before that was a year earlier. In contrast, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Los Angeles host regular workshops for tenants separately.

The city’s Rights and Responsibilities handbook is outdated. What is the Handbook? It is a summary of local and state tenancy laws that the city requires every landlord to provide to a prospective tenant. Shouldn’t it reflect the current law? It doesn’t: late changes to the rent stabilization ordinance like the prohibition on no-just-cause termination and new ‘disruptive’ tenant termination are not included. They should be — especially as the city requires a tenant to sign off on having received it.

(Last August Renters Alliance provided the Human Relations Commission with three pages of corrections and recommendations. We’re still waiting on a revised Handbook!)

The posted Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 frequently-asked-question documents also do not include recent ordinance changes. The city provides scant assistance with the complex state and local laws concerning tenancy. Worse, what is posted — the actual rent stabilization ordinance chapters 5 and 6 — are outdated and don’t reflect big changes made last fall.

HRC Tenant Landlord Forum announcementThe RSO website needs a lot of work. The website continues to show an announcement for the “new” tenant landlord forum but that forum doesn’t exist anymore. The Human Relations Commission shuttered it a few months ago. Yet there is the forum announcement: “New!”

The main rent stabilization webpage layout is chaotic and less-than-relevant. Material like old meeting notices is prominently posted but important information is not there. (Here is an archived image of the page for posterity.)

The RSO program needs to express its mission. This is the description that is posted:

The Rent Stabilization Program is responsible for administering the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance to ensure the rent stabilization guidelines are properly followed and to educate renters and housing providers about their rights and responsibilities.

Instead the message communicated to tenants should be clear and unambiguous: You matter to us. We could suggest something like:

Residents who rent in Beverly Hills are important to our city. It is the mission of the rent stabilization program to preserve and maintain rental housing stock so that our community, at any income level, can make a home in our city. The staff of the rent stabilization program is here to help you understand the laws, policies and city programs that support those who rent in Beverly Hills.

The city can do much better. To the rent stabilization office’s credit, they don’t have the staff they would like; and they are often quick to address issues when reported. There is much more to do to bring Beverly Hills to parity without our rent control city neighbors.

For reference, visit the rent stabilization websites for West Hollywood and Santa Monica. In particular the WeHo ‘Building Blocks’ tenant workshop is a model.