RSO Basics and Updates Webinar: Our Review

Beverly Hills rent stabilization division this week hosted a webinar Q&A titled RSO Basics and Updates. It is the latest virtual ‘training’ on tenant and landlord responsibilities. Helen Morales, deputy director of the rent stabilization division, walked through the basics: history of the rent stabilization ordinance, reasons for no-fault termination, the city’s moratorium and more. Dry stuff mostly, but there are a few nuggets to highlight before we render our verdict.

The rent stabilization division has conducted six in-person seminars and virtual webinars since the rent stabilization ordinance was revised by City Council in 2017. They are posted to the Past Workshops and Trainings webpage. These sessions focused either on processes like rental unit registration or general information about the rent stabilization ordinance.

The most recent workshop focused on the rent stabilization ordinance and ran for about 40 minutes before questions.

Much of the presentation won’t be of much interest to tenants because it pertains more to landlords. But there are a few useful passages that we want to flag for your viewing pleasure:

  • Ellis Act requirements that a landlord must follow when a tenancy is terminated for no-fault (00:11:03 on the video);
  • Means and method requirements that the landlord must follow if construction will affect habitability or negatively impact occupants or neighbors (00:26:12 on the video);
  • Update on the city’s COVID–19 moratorium (00:33:18 on the video).

Q&A follows the presentation at about 00:41:24 on the video. That’s right — just 40 minutes of substance. Indeed this seminar was brief and sparsely attended and not nearly as informative as these two earlier seminars presentations:

RSO Basics and Updates: Our Review

This presentation was another general walk-through about rent stabilization from a brief history to ordinance highlights. True to the title it was about the basics only. The intended audience was both tenants and landlords. Off the bat that was a disappointment; we have urged the rent stabilization division to hold seminars focused only on tenants’ rights like West Hollywood and Santa Monica do. They have established a great model to emulate.

For another thing, these seminars should go much more deep than simply ‘RSO basics.’ Tenants have specific concerns. We call the RSO phone line well over a thousand times every year with those concerns.

RSO fiscal year calls report excerpt FY2018-20

However none of those calls to RSO seem to inform these seminars. Given the volume of calls and variety of concerns — many are repeated — one would think that tenants could have an entire seminar focused only on answering tenant questions we’ve already asked.

This kind of general overview is also too limited. Tenancy law on the whole is established by state statute. Our rent stabilization ordinance is silent on most of the issues of concern to tenants: return of the security deposit, landlord entry into the unit, mold and other hazards, habitability standards, changes in housing services and billing for utilities.

A useful presentation would touch on those issues and save rental unit registration for another time. (Properties won’t be registered again until next year anyway.)

On the brighter side, the RSO Basics and Updates seminar did include a useful update about our local moratorium. There was also a bit about the “active” Rent Stabilization Commission. You know, the commission that voted in November to recommend to City Council that the city end the moratorium tenant protections immediately.

To conclude with this brief review, we think that tenants and landlords are different audiences with different concerns. Our rights and responsibilities may meet in the text of the rent stabilization ordinance, but beyond that we need individual seminars to address our unique concerns and perspectives.

Means and Method: Why Tenants Need Our Own Seminar

Helen Morales, deputy director of the rent stabilization division, walked viewers through the means and method construction permitting requirement starting at 00:26:12 on the video. Had you not heard about it?

The means and method requirement (B.H.M.C. 9–1–108) says that if construction will impair habitability for more than one day, or negatively impact the occupant or neighboring multifamily tenants, then the scope of the work must be disclosed in what is called a ‘means and method’ plan. The plan must identify impacts and mitigations for those impacts (to the extent that the impacts can be mitigated). Also tenants must be notified at least 10 days in advance of construction.

Landlords need to know that pulling a building permit for interior remodeling, replacement of kitchen or bath fixtures, installation of laminate flooring, or other interior and exterior work that requires a permit likely also requires a means and method plan. To that extent this segment of the seminar was useful. But tenants who listened probably concluded that this permitting requirement isn’t our concern.

The realty is that means and method is one of the most important issues raised in the entire presentation.

Why? Because some landlords routinely undertake construction and remodeling without a permit. When there is no permit there is no means and method plan. And without a means and method plan there will be no advance notice to tenants. Tenants get the heads-up only when the work crew arrives. If we know about the requirement then we can contact the city and stop the work if there is no permit or plan.

From the tenants’ perspective this segment of the seminar didn’t acknowledge the reality that landlords often undertake construction without a permit. A presentation to tenants should proceed from that premise.

For example, say construction at the property generates noise, dust and other impacts. Were we notified 10 days in advance? If not, then here is who we call at city hall to ask about a permit. Is there no permit? Here is who you call to file a complaint to stop the work. If work departs from what the means and method plan says then here’s how to report it.

The city hasn’t provided tenants with that presentation so Renters Alliance has posted an explainer about it: Means and Method Plan: What You Need to Know.

We have urged the rent stabilization division since December 2020 to communicate with tenants directly about our rights. And we’re still trying. But the five minutes devoted to this important issue in RSO basics simply won’t cut it.