City Council Poised to Make RSO Commission Appointments [updated]

City Council has moved quickly after the Rent Stabilization Commission imploded in March to appoint two designated tenant representatives to replace the departing representatives who resigned. The city’s priority is clearly to get the commission back up-and-running, so as soon as the application period closed the council conducted the interviews. Now the appointments recommendation is coming forward for council approval. Let’s see who is tipped for those seats!

Update On July 15th city council appointed Bronte, Sokoloff and Lindsey-Cerqueira to the commission. The commission will resume regular meetings on August 4th and top of that agenda will be a discussion about ending the residential tenant provisions of the Beverly Hills local COVID-19 moratorium.

City council on Thursday July 15th will appoint two candidates to fill two available designated tenant-representative seats on the Rent Stabilization Commission. A quorum of six members is required and due to the recent tenant-representative resignations there is only one tenant-representative — an alternate — who can step in. That is one tenant member short of a quorum.

By way of background, city council created this commission with the unusual number of six regular members, two of whom are tenants, two are landlords and two are residents who neither rent nor lease rental housing in the city (called ‘at-large’ and are presumed to be neutral). There is also an alternate representative appointed for each of the three categories in case a regular member is absent.

Likely Appointments

City council is likely to appoint current tenant-alternate member Kathy Bronte to fill an available regular member seat. Bronte is a special education teacher, a lifelong resident and active community member, and also brings some property management experience to the table. “I feel I have an abundance of knowledge and experience to help facilitate fair outcomes,” she said in her 2019 commission application.

Over her seven regular and five special meetings with the commission she is acquainted with the friction that had emerged among commissioner. It is reflected in Bronte’s answer to a question on her commission application about commissioner relations. “Among commissioners, the relationships should be respectful with a willingness to listen and compromise.” Her answer to that question in 2019 addressed only dealing with a conflict-of-interest.

We expect Bronte to continue to be a constructive presence on the RSO commission dais. She has never missed a meeting and she has proved to be a capable and reasonable voice for tenants.

Council is likely to appoint Zachary Sokoloff to fill the other regular member seat. According to Sokoloff’s commission application he is a community-oriented and social justice-minded former teacher (Teach for America) who has evidently found his new calling as a “real estate developer” with Hackman Capital Partners. His background in economics, law and business will well-qualify him for serving on a commission that will discuss rather technical issues, such as rent increases, as well as the legal complexities of tenancy law. (We once called the overlapping local ordinance and state statutes a ‘landlord-tenant law layer cake’).

Sokoloff has been both a tenant and an investor in multifamily residential real estate (none located in Beverly Hills). “I help manage a large portfolio of multifamily investments on behalf of my family, largely through third- party managers,” he said in his commission application, though none is in Beverly Hills. That experience may better prepare Sokoloff for an ‘at large’ (neutral) position rather than a tenant representative. However he does cite housing affordability as a key concern. “I want to be part of a new generation of leadership in Beverly Hills that builds a city my grandchildren can afford and enjoy.”

Council is likely to appoint Kandace Lindsey-Cerqueira as the tenant-alternate. (This is the seat vacated by Bronte.) Songwriter, producer and performer Lindsey-Cerqueira is a longtime Beverly Hills tenant who, as she highlights on her commission application, had received a 60-day no-just-cause eviction notice in 2016 before the practice was outlawed in Beverly Hills. That resulted in a rushed move for her family just days before Christmas. “I wouldn’t wish such a stressful situation on anybody,” she said in the application.

Lindsey-Cerqueira has been active with BHUSD PTA and was a two-time campaign supporter of “2 X Mayor and City Councilwoman Lili Bosse.” (Vice-Mayor Bosse is a council liaison to the Rent Stabilization Commission.) She cites rental housing affordability as a key rent stabilization issue facing the city, along with household instability in the wake of the pandemic and specifically the concerns of tenants with children in the school system. As for balancing tenant and landlord interests, “I do feel that there is a tricky balance between the rights of property owners and tenants, but there is definitely a way to be fair and reasonable to both.”

Notably the city received only five applications for the two open tenant-representative seats. That is the fewest number of applications we can recall for a commission vacancy (let alone two seats) and the minimum number of applications required for city council to make an appointment.

For more information read the commission appointments staff report 2021-7-15 and read more about the commission.

Fast Track to Appointments

City council and city staff are moving quickly to appoint new tenant representatives because the commission cannot operate with only one tenant representative (currently it is alternate Kathy Bronte); and city council will task the commission with recommending to council whether, and when, to sunset the COVID-19 moratorium on eviction and rent increases.

City council can refer that important issue to this commission because the Rent Stabilization Commission is charged with performing any function assigned by city council. In this case it looks expedient to get political cover from the commission to end the moratorium sooner — perhaps as early as September 30th — by getting the commission’s recommendation to bring the moratorium protections to an end.

Additional Commission Responsibilities

The commission is also charged with advising city council on rent-stabilization matters such as the maximum allowable annual rent increase, relocation fees, and costs that may be passed-through to tenants. The commission could also recommend a new habitability standard for residential rental units and even recommend a housing inspection program. (These issues were discussed by city council in 2017 but no action was taken.)

More immediately, the commission is tasked with making a determination in tenant appeals where the landlord does not choose to extend forbearance on the payment of rent to a COVID–19 affected tenant. (The commission has to date denied two tenant appeals and heard a third appeal which was withdrawn.) The commission can also be charged with hearing ‘disruptive tenant’ hearings wherein the landlord moves to evict a tenant who fits the city’s description of ‘disruptive.’ (The commission has not received any disruptive tenant referrals.)

In the future, city council coul task the Rent Stabilization Commission with adjudicating tenant-landlord disputes and making determinations in technical matters as may be referred by city council. (Both Santa Monica and West Hollywood have rent stabilization commissions that make formal determinations.)

We wish these new commissioners luck — and hope the city does a better job of preparing them for the commission responsibilities.