City Requires This Outdated Handbook Be Provided to Tenants

The Tenant Landlord Rights & Responsibilities Handbook is an 8-page paper and online document that outlines key aspects of state and local tenancy law. It is a helpful document and required reading for tenants before they sign a lease. In fact landlords must provide it. But the Handbook hasn’t been updated in a year despite important amendments to the rent stabilization ordinance. Why can’t the city get this right?

What is the Rights and Responsibilities Handbook?

A landlord is required to provide the Rights and Responsibilities Handbook to a prospective tenant before the tenant signs a lease. According to the Beverly Hills Municipal Code:

At least twenty four (24) hours prior to the execution of a lease or rental agreement by a tenant, the landlord shall provide written notice to the prospective tenant, in the form and languages required by the City: 1) of the provisions of this chapter, including the amount of the annual rent increase that is allowed by this chapter; 2) of any parking restrictions in the area adjacent to the apartment building; 3) that at the termination of the lease agreement, unless the lease is extended or a new lease is entered into, a month to month tenancy will be created if the tenant holds over and the landlord accepts rent from the tenant; 4) that the month to month tenancy can be terminated at any time, if the landlord provides written notice to the tenant in accordance with the requirements of all applicable laws; 5) of the City’s home occupation requirements; and 6) of State laws that establish certain rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. — B.H.M.C. 4–6–5(B)

However the Handbook incorrectly informs tenants they can be evicted for no-just-cause and omits any mention about the new allowed for-cause reason for eviction (the ‘disruptive tenant’ provision). If a tenant reads the Handbook today she will be misinformed:

The Landlord may terminate a tenancy for no reason (no-cause termination) with either a 30-day or 60-day written notice, as required by State law and the Municipal Code. — Handbook p. 4

But City Council ended that practice in October of 2018! Eviction must now be predicated on a no-fault, just-cause reason. And the very next month, in November of 2018, Council granted landlords the right to ask the city to terminate a tenant for disruptive behavior. From the ordinance:

A landlord may bring an action to recover possession of an apartment unit if: a) the tenant repeatedly or continually disturbs the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of one or more tenants who occupy other rental units in the apartment building where the tenant resides or b) antagonizes, intimidates or bullies one or more tenants who reside at that apartment building (“disruptive tenant”) and the disruptive tenant does not cease the behavior when requested to do so by the other tenant(s) or by the property owner or manager of the premises. — B.H.M.C 4–6–6(M)

The Handbook was last updated in July 2018 so it doesn’t reflect either change. That means tenants have been provided with incorrect information before they sign a lease. Even if they access the Handbook posted online they see an outdated version.

Why a Rights and Responsibilities Handbook?

Since Beverly Hills enacted rent control four decades ago, City Council has been periodically besieged by frustrated tenants who bring notice of an excessive rent increase or a no-just-cause eviction to Council chambers. Often they ask, Where is the protection against abusive landlords? Neighbors in West Hollywood and Santa Monica enjoy robust tenant protections so why not Beverly Hills residents who rent?

But time and again our city was able to squelch calls for better tenant protections. Herm Shultz and members of his Concern for Tenants Rights organization did their best to keep the issue alive, but the truth is that tenants never have been an organized voting block. We also tend to vote at lower rates than do homeowners. Both dilute our political power.

Also our elected representatives usually hail from the north side. Most tenants in the city’s rental housing — especially those in smaller, more affordable apartments — live in the south. Unsurprisingly we couldn’t get traction with past city councils. (The current city council is a different story.)

When tenant frustrations came to a boil some fifteen years ago, it was easy for councilmembers to simply shunt aside tenant calls for rent stabilization reform.  Indeed instead of making any meaningful amendments to the rent stabilization ordinance, the city council then simply required disclosure. Prospective tenants would be informed about the protections that they wouldn’t have when they rent in Beverly Hills.

Thus was hatched ordinance 04-O–2449 which amended the Municipal Code: “At least twenty four (24) hours prior to the execution of a lease or rental agreement by a tenant,” the ordinance said, “the landlord shall provide written notice to the prospective tenant….”

And the ordinance required the prospective tenant to “acknowledge in writing” having received the notice. That means not just checking a box like on today’s registry form for landlords…

Rental unit registration form (Handbook requirement)
The rental unit registry requires landlords to indicate that they have provided the Handbook to prospective tenants. The city takes the disclosure responsibility more seriously than the need for substantive and empowering information to tenants.

…but instead actually signing a legal attestation. “I affirm that the Landlord or the Landlord’s Agent provided me with a copy….”

The attestation consumed an entire page of the 9-page ‘Special Notice’ created in 2004 to meet the requirement of the disclosure ordinance. The attestation is there in today’s Handbook too. Indeed today’s Rights and Responsibilities Handbook is the direct descendant of the original 2004 Special Notice. Only it has that new title!

The title came recommended by the Human Relations Commission as this ‘redline’ document from 2015 to update the Handbook shows:

Special Notice (redline version 2015)The penalty was never increased to $1,000 as recommended. Landlords can still be fined $500 fifteen years later for not providing the Handbook.

Worse, despite the new title, the spirit of the Handbook was unchanged. Still it would be more about tenant responsibilities than about tenants rights. The handbook then and now reminds tenants of what we must do: pay rent on time, create no nuisance, engage in no home occupation, etc.

But the Handbook does not tell us much about what the landlord must do. Looking at the Handbook only 3 of 8 pages is devoted to substantive content. Of those three pages just 1 of 17 substantive paragraphs actually concerns a landlord obligation: to provide heat, hot water, plumbing, etc. (see Housing & Health Code Standards paragraph 15, p. 6).

Update Fail

When the Human Relations Commission last discussed an update to the Handbook in August of 2018 it was to make some marginal fixes: typos and perhaps some language that needed tweaking. At the time Renters Alliance saw an opportunity to make the Handbook an empowering document. We wanted it to provide tenants with as much information as possible about renting in Beverly Hills.

So we submitted to the commission three pages of recommended changes. The commissioners agreed to some, but the spirit of the Handbook would remain unchanged: a bare-bones disclosure document. The update never even happened! The Handbook that is handed to tenants today, and that is posted to the website, and which was last updated in July of 2018 before those key amendments to the rent stabilization ordinance, is out-of-date.

The Handbook May Be Necessary, But It is Not Sufficient

The Rights and Responsibilities Handbook is long on tenant responsibilities but short on tenant rights. To read between the lines is to understand what’s not on the menu: there is no interior habitability standard, for example, or any mandated maintenance and upkeep of the rental property. Tenants in neighboring cities take these for granted but here a tenant can expect her landlord to keep the rain out with a tarp instead of properly fixing the roof while code enforcement seems to turn a blind eye.

Then again the whole point of the Special Notice in the first place was a nod to tenant protections without actually adding any. It was disclosure in lieu of RSO reform. Today’s Handbook is the same. It may be necessary, according to the Municipal Code, but it is not sufficient. And besides it’s not even up to date!