Rent Stabilization Commission Seeks a Tenant Representative

City of Beverly Hills is seeking a tenant-representative to fill an announced vacancy on the Rent Stabilization Commission. Formed in 2019 to hear tenant-landlord disputes, the commission was instead directed to consider amendments to the city’s rent stabilization ordinance and to make such recommendations to City Council. Discussions necessarily focus on policy but often touch on more general concerns about rental housing. This is a good opportunity for a tenant to learn about rent stabilization and to have a voice on an issue that affects more than half of all city households.

More About the Rent Stabilization Commission

The Rent Stabilization Commission is a 6-member body comprised of two tenants, two landlords and two at-large members; each is appointed to represent the interests of tenants, landlords and the general public (respectively). Unlike all other city commissions that operate to represent the interests of the city as a whole, the appointees to this commission are expected to represent the interests of their constituents. A tenant-representative will be expected to represent tenants’ concerns and, we would suggest, should reach out to tenants to engage us about our concerns.

In fact the original purpose of the commission was to resolve tenant-landlord disputes. In that capacity the concept was supported by both tenants and landlords who participated in preliminary rent stabilization amendment discussions in 2017 and 2018. When City Council agreed to establish the commission there was a curveball: Council simply handed the hot potato of rent stabilization amendments over to the commission. It had not even held a single meeting.

That was nearly four years ago. Today the commission’s remit: make recommendations to the City Council concerning amendments to the rent stabilization ordinance on issues that have not yet been resolved by the City Council (which is basically everything); and to perform any other functions that may be designated by resolution or motion of the City Council. For example City Council has tasked the commission with discussing tenant protections in the event of lawful eviction. That comes before the commission on Wednesday, February 1, 2023. (The agenda will be posted online on or around January 26th.)

In terms of conducting business, all six voting members must be present in order to achieve the required quorum of two landlords, two tenants and two at-large members. Additional members are appointed as alternates — one each for the tenant, landlord and at-large seats. While only regular members vote the designated alternate casts the vote if the regular member is absent.

Most likely this commission vacancy is for the position of tenant-alternate, although the city’s vacancy announcement and application don’t say that. If the tenant-alternate position is of lesser interest it should not dissuade a potential applicant: alternate members are present at every meeting and participate fully in the discussion. In every respect an alternate is treated as an equal member of the commission. Alternates enjoy regular commission perks such as a coveted citywide free parking hangtag and, well, bragging rights.

As to leadership the commission is no different: the chair and vice-chair are commissioners who are elevated to serve for one-year terms. Chairs have the most responsibility: they are consulted on the agenda but do not set it; and they manage the meeting by, for example, calling on public speakers, extending or limiting public involvement, and exercising discretion in steering the discussion. Read more about how commission’s work in the City Commissioners’ Handbook.

What is different about this commission’s leadership is that the position of chair rotates between the two appointed at-large members (with an alternate stepping in as needed); the vice-chair position rotates between appointed tenant and landlord members. That was council’s attempt to balance the interests of tenants and landlords. Remember the at-large members are appointed to represent the public interest and in some cases to break a tie if tenants and landlords can’t agree.

Council is supposed to exercise some commission oversight. Indeed there are two sitting councilmembers who are appointed to liaise with this commission’s leadership. Perhaps alone among the city’s twelve commission liaison committees, the one for the Rent Stabilization Commission has never met. Today the appointed council liaisons are councilmembers Lester Friedman and Sharona Nazarian. (The appointments rotate annually with the incoming mayor.)

The commission’s key staff contact is Helen Morales, deputy director of the Rent Stabilization division and secretary to the commission. RSO is a division within the Community Development Department which includes functions for planning, building and safety and code enforcement. The department staff provide support to the commission such as data or reports that may bear on the city’s rental housing stock.

Meetings are held every first Wednesday of the month and begin at 6:00 p.m. Typically meetings end by 9:00 p.m. All meetings are public and are available to view online. At every meeting there is an opportunity at for a commissioner to make a statement or to request additional information.

There is more helpful information about this commission buried at the bottom of the online application where a prospective applicant may not see it until after finishing the application. We include it below under the heading, Serving on the Beverly Hills Rent Stabilization Commission.

Applying for a Commission Vacancy

commission vacancy apply nowThe only qualification for the vacant tenant-member seat is the lawful occupancy of a rental apartment in Beverly Hills. That can include a subtenant or “any other person entitled to the use or occupancy,” according to the notice of commission vacancy, which is not explicit about whether ‘apartment’ is a rent-stabilized unit or any apartment. Practically speaking, the vast majority of apartments are rent-stabilized so most applicants are likely to be rent-stabilized tenants.

The online application process is straightforward: the usual commissioner applicant questions include name, address, occupation and whether the applicant lives or works in Beverly Hills; the application also asks whether the applicant has applied for another commission and more specifically why the applicant wants to serve on this particular commission.

We highly recommend any applicant to view past Rent Stabilization Commission meetings to become acquainted with the key issues and to get a taste of the commission’s deliberative (but digressive) process. Read more of our past commission coverage on Renters Alliance.

This commission’s application also includes a couple of questions intended to flag an applicant’s “technical expertise” such as experience in real estate or law. Is the applicant comfortable with reading and interpreting regulations and statutes? That may suggest an applicant’s suitability to this particular commission because the remit of the commission for now is to make policy recommendations.

Then there are questions concerning tenant-landlord issues such as:

  • The applicant’s thoughts about key issues in rent stabilization in Beverly Hills;
  • How will the applicant endeavor to balance the rights of property owners and tenants; and most problematically,
  • Have you ever been evicted for just cause?

In our view the eviction question should not be on this application as it is not explained what is “just cause.” (Just cause refers to any lawful reason for eviction whether or not the tenant is at fault.) Note that there is no corresponding question that reads, “Have you ever evicted a tenant for just cause?”

We can’t know whether this is simply a prompt for a fuller discussion during the interview or a litmus test to screen candidates, but regardless, these applications are public and a potential applicant may not want to answer this question. For whatever reason the city has not heeded a suggestion to remove the question.

A commission applicant’s interview is likely to be conducted with the two appointed council liaisons plus the chair and vice-chair of the commission. The chair is at-large representative Donna Tryfman (former school board candidate) and the vice-chair is landlord-member Neal Baseman.

What will they ask? Interviewers are likely to look for a candidate’s interest in the policy issues rather than any deep knowledge about them; and will likely look for thoughtfulness about the challenges of balancing property interests against tenant protections such as controlling the price of rent. The outgoing tenant commissioner had these qualities but they aren’t looking for a substitute.  Tenant advocacy comes with the territory for a designated representative but better to leave this motivation more softly stated.

Note: preference is traditionally accorded to applicants who have completed the city’s Team Beverly Hills program. According to the Team Beverly Hills website, “The vision of Team BH is to develop and maintain an informed, energetic and diversified resource for community involvement and leadership roles.” It may be informative but we view it as an effort to co-opt participants. Instead we favor oppositional voices. In any case, Team Beverly Hills participation will be less significant as a consideration than other qualifications, so non-participation should not dissuade any applicant from applying.

Our Take

The rent stabilization commission offers a unique opportunity for tenants who want to serve on a commission. For one thing there is less competition for this commission compared to other commissions and, besides, most of the commission competition is out of the game. Homeowners disproportionately apply for commission service but most aren’t eligible for a tenant-representative position.

Second, most tenants don’t pay attention to city issues and so many would-be competing applicants won’t know that there is a vacancy. The limited pool of applicants means the chances of appointment are much greater. Any sentient being will be afforded due consideration.

Third and most important, this is an opportunity for a policy-minded tenant to have a voice on the current issue of rent stabilization. And the time is right. Council hasn’t amended the rent stabilization ordinance in four years. Now we see an approaching wave of redevelopment coming and it will test the city’s commitment to residents who rent. Tenant-landlord issues will again be in the foreground as they haven’t been since 2017.

We encourage any tenant to step up to apply. Please get in touch with Renters Alliance and we can work with you through the application process and beyond. We always stand ready to provide technical assistance on law or policy to any RSO commissioner.

Resources

Serving on the Beverly Hills Rent Stabilization Commission

The Rent Stabilization Commission will be one of twelve (12) Commissions appointed by the City Council to carry out a variety of delegated functions. The City Manager, Department heads, and other City staff who work for the City Council provide staff support to the Commissions. The Community Development Department provides primary staff support to the Rent Stabilization Commission, Architectural Commission, the Design Review Commission, Cultural Heritage Commission, Traffic and Parking Commission, and the Planning Commission. As with the other City Departments, Community Development staff also provides support to other Commissions and to the City Council.

There are six (6) Rent Stabilization Commission positions serving staggered, four-year terms. Two commissioners shall be landlords; two commissioners shall be tenants, and two Commissioners shall be At Large Members who are not Tenants, are not Managers of an apartment building, and are not Housing Providers who have a financial interest of 5% or more in a multi-family residential rental property (apartment building) either within or outside of the City. There are also three (3) alternates, one for each category.

One landlord member, one tenant member, and one at large member of the initially appointed commissioners and all the alternates shall be appointed for an initial term of four years. The other three Commissioners shall be appointed for an initial term of two years. Each Commissioner and alternate shall thereafter have the opportunity for reappointment to an additional four-year term. An appointment to fill a vacancy on the Commission shall be for a period of the unexpired term.

When there is an anticipated vacancy, the City Council announces and advertises the upcoming vacancy and invites interested persons to submit application forms. A subcommittee of City Council and Rent Stabilization Commission members will interview all interested candidates and will make recommendations to the full City Council. The City Council makes its final selection and appointment at a formal public meeting. The City Clerk swears in the new Rent Stabilization Commissioners sometime before their first meeting, generally immediately prior to their first meeting.

Legal Authorities and Responsibilities

The Beverly Hills Municipal Code sets out the areas over which the Rent Stabilization Commission has authority, either as a decision-making body or advisory to the City Council. The Commission is responsible for making recommendations to the City Council regarding amendments to Chapter 5 and 6 of Title 4 of the Beverly Hills Municipal Code.

The Commission acts as an advisory to the City Council to provide recommendations for amendments to the Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

Operation, Staffing and Time Commitment

The Rent Stabilization Commission meets the 1st Wednesday of each month with additional meetings as necessary. Meetings are open to the public and are held in Room 280A, which is adjacent to the City Council Chamber on the second floor of Beverly Hills City Hall. Meetings begin at 6:00 p.m. and typically end by 9:00 p.m.; however, depending on the number of projects and their related scopes of work, a meeting may run into the mid-evening hours. The meetings are conducted by the Chair, or in his/her absence, the Vice Chair. From time to time, Commissioners may serve on Ad Hoc committees or subcommittees of three members appointed by the Chair to study particular issues and make recommendations to the full Commission. The Chair and Vice-Chair positions are rotated on an annual basis. On those occasions where a Commission decision is appealed to the City Council, the Chair or Vice Chair represents the Commission at the hearing by the City Council.

Approximately one week before each meeting, Commissioners receive an agenda and binder of staff reports as requested by the Commissioners or brought forward by staff. Depending on the length and complexity of the agenda, Commissioners can expect to spend between four to ten hours reading the reports in advance of the meeting. In general, Commissioners can expect to spend 10–15 hours per month on meetings and related activities.

To constitute a quorum of the Commission, the following six commissioners must be present: two commissioners who are landlord members or the landlord alternate; two who are tenant members or the tenant alternate and two who are at large members or the at large alternate. The Commission must conduct its meetings and formulate its decisions in accordance with its Rules of Procedure and with State law (“Brown Act”) which requires all meetings to be open to the public. All meetings of the Rent Stabilization Commission are video recorded and available for viewing on the City’s website. Minutes of the meetings are taken by a staff recording secretary.

State law requires compliance with conflict of interest requirements, which involve filing a financial disclosure form with the City Clerk, which is available to the public to inspect. Interested persons may contact the City Clerk’s office to inspect a sample report. A Commissioner may not deliberate or participate in any case in which that Commissioner has an interest. The City Attorney’s office, which also provides staff support to the Commission, can provide guidance to individual Commissioners who may have questions on a case-by-case basis. Commissioners will find that interested parties to an application (both pro and con) will attempt to engage them in conversation about a pending case. It is important for Commissioners to maintain an impartial distance from those interested in applications coming before the Commission and must maintain this impartiality, sometimes in the context of impassioned pleas from their fellow residents, business colleagues, friends, and acquaintances.

Helpful skills for Commissioners to have include: the ability to read and understand landlord tenant laws and rent stabilization ordinance provisions; the ability to view the rent stabilization ordinance provisions in both the light of the tenant and the landlord, and lots of diplomacy and patience!

Service on any City Commission is a responsibility, which may involve a significant time commitment, and should not be undertaken lightly. Aside from attending regularly scheduled meetings, preparation for meetings and special meetings sometimes warrants an additional time commitment, especially during service as Chair or Vice Chair. Commissioners may also be requested to attend certain City Council meetings, community meetings and/or other City functions, such as Team Beverly Hills.