Does this sound familiar? “Housing campaigners have hailed a groundbreaking shift for tenants’ rights after the government announced plans to scrap ‘no-fault evictions” (reports The Guardian). Tenants groups called it “the biggest overhaul for renters in a generation.” It should sound familiar because six months ago Beverly Hills ended no-just-cause termination for many of the same reasons driving this change of law now in the UK. It turns out that we in hills of Beverly have more in common with the UK than we might have thought!
There are many parallels between the experience of a renting household in the UK and a tenant’s experience here at home in Beverly Hills. There is the problem of under-maintenance of properties that trap renters in dilapidated UK housing and similar predations here when landlords minimize the maintenance to maximize the cash flow.
There are the evictions-en-masse in the UK so landlords can flip their assets and similar displacements here when speculative development gobbles properties or ‘market repositioning’ requires an apartment house be emptied of tenants.
There and here our local governments struggle to stem the loss of rental apartments to AirBnB leasing schemes.
That there are so many similarities between the rental housing market there and here perhaps should not be so surprising; the UK is suffering a rental housing crisis too. There are rising rents amidst post-crisis economic uncertainty and a shortage of affordable housing relative to need.
In both countries a prevailing private property rights ethos put tenants at a disadvantage when it comes to housing law. And the tenant facing a judge may do well to remember that the underpinning of our own justice system hails directly from the UK’s common law structure (minus the barrister’s horsehair wig of course).
We also inherited the very descriptive term ‘landlord’ from feudal England too!
The Guardian report also rehearses familiar landlord arguments in favor of keeping no-just-cause eviction on the books. It is an expedient means of evicting tenants who would otherwise be offered an opportunity to contest the charges in court. It is a handy way of dealing with tenants who pose some problem for the landlord (and nearly impossible to prove as retaliation).
The UK may yet put an end to that practice but we in Beverly Hills can be proud that our City Council did it first. Six months ago our city ended no-just-cause termination on the very same day that tenants showed up to complain that a landlord had evicted his tenants simply because he grew frustrated watching a city rent stabilization meeting that night on TV.
While we are happy to know that the landlord was paying attention to the policy discussion, we were not so happy to see his caprice directed at a young, newlywed couple who, he told them, were good tenants. After thirty years our City Council did the right thing.
There is one aspect of the rental housing debate that is profoundly different here: tenants of modest means are chasing the so-called public option. Where UK tenants of lesser means are squeezed between a predatory private rental market and a public housing market (aka council estates) that is even worse, here in Beverly Hills we welcome public participation in housing construction.
We too have a shortage of affordable housing supply and in some ways the public sector is best able to addrsss it. Beverly Hills is under no austerity program; the city has the means — and the land — to undertake public-private partnerships to provide the affordable housing options we need.
We also have leverage to compel the private sector to provide it too. Where the UK can’t seem to find a way to escape its governance challenges, Beverly Hills has the best City Council we’ve ever had. If there is ever a time for City Hall to get into the housing business it is now. We can’t afford to wait any longer.