Are You a ‘Disruptive’ Tenant? A Hearing Officer Could Decide Your Fate!

Dear tenant troublemakers: Did you know that the Beverly Hills rent stabilization ordinance allows your landlord to haul you up before a city council committee as a ‘disruptive tenant’? And if adjudicated as disruptive you could face eviction? Three tenants faced the process but none turfed-out by our council’s committee. Had an independent hearing officer heard those cases any could have been decided differently. Now city council wants to put a hearing officer in charge. The change is up for discussion on the June 18th council afternoon agenda.

Update At the June 18th meeting, city council unanimously agreed to turn disruptive tenant proceedings over to a professional hearing officer. The change is expected to be formalized in the coming weeks. Once that change takes effect, we can expect more landlords to take advantage of the unique and ill-advised disruptive tenant process in order to remove a tenant for whom the landlord has no other lawful means to evict. Councilmembers Sharona Nazarian and Craig Corman recommended this change in May. The full city council saw no reason to disagree even though we provided ample reason in our comment. (Watch the video of the discussion.) Have YOU been informed by your landlord that you may be subject to a disruptive tenant proceeding? Please get in touch.

What is the ‘Disruptive Tenant’ Provision?

To make it brief: city council amended the rent stabilization ordinance in 2018 to allow the landlord to evict a tenant for-cause if that tenant is determined to be disruptive. That is defined vaguely as having “repeatedly disturbed a neighbor’s peaceful and quiet enjoyment” or having intimidated or bullied neighbors at the property. It is a formal and public hearing process and a 2-member council committee makes that determination. The disruptive tenant provision is unique to Beverly Hills.

If deemed by the council committee to be disruptive, then tenant may be evicted by the landlord. But it is untested in the courts: if the landlord follows-through the tenant can contest it. If the city denies the landlord’s application, then the landlord may appeal it. How would it work? Nobody knows!

To date there have been three disruptive tenant hearings yet the council committee has not found any tenant to have been disruptive. That suggests some reluctance to find a tenant to be disruptive; or our landlords are bringing disruptive allegations that can’t be supported. Regardless, it is an ordeal for a tenant who has to prepare for what is essentially a trial and then publicly defend themselves against the landlord’s allegations.

Read more about the process in our post: City Allows Landlords to Terminate ‘Disruptive’ Tenants.

What’s on the Agenda?

On the Tuesday afternoon city council study session agenda is recommendation to amend the rent stabilization ordinance to make the decision-maker in the disruptive tenant process a professional hearing officer rather than today’s two-member city councilmember committee.

That will make a BIG difference in terms of outcome. Today the tenant’s only protection from a bad-faith landlord that casts spurious ‘disruptive’ allegations is the council committee: two elected councilmembers preside over the process make the determination. As elected representatives they may be reluctant to support eviction.

Indeed at a recent disruptive tenant hearing two committee members, councilmembers Sharona Nazarian and Craig Corman, appeared  hesitant to evict. They seemed uncomfortable having to make the determination at all. And that’s why this change is on the agenda. It would be good for councilmembers but not good for tenants.

After all, a hearing officer will not be accountable to city voters and they may have no understanding about our local rental housing market. The prevalence of under-maintenance in our city often leads to a landlord-tenant disputes.

We bring this to your attention because even a close watcher of city hall would not notice this proposed change from looking at the Tuesday afternoon city council agenda. They wouldn’t see this possible amendment that would make a hearing officer the decision-maker. Agenda item #2 reads, “Recommendation of the Commission Standardization Ad Hoc Committee to Sunset the Rent Stabilization Commission.” That has nothing to do with the disruptive tenant process!

Yet tucked into the June 18, 2024 staff report for item #2 is this bit:

In addition to the recommendation to sunset the RSC, the committee recommended that the City Council consider amending the Rent Stabilization Ordinance to change the manner in which Disruptive Tenant Applications are considered. As noted above, such applications are currently considered by a City Council subcommittee appointed by the mayor. Due to the sensitive and personal nature of the testimony and deliberations for a Disruptive Tenant Application, the committee recommended that the applications be considered and decided upon by a hearing officer, consistent with other applications and appeals under the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, rather than by a City Council subcommittee. Staff concurs with this recommendation.

The recommendation very likely originated with staff and was suggested to councilmembers to be raised at the ad-hoc standardization meeting… even though it has nothing to do with commission standardization. Then to have staff “concur” with the recommendation is like putting a fat thumb on scale for the change.

Why We Can’t Support The Recommendation

The one question that the ad-hoc committee members Nazarian and Corman could have asked (but didn’t): Does our city even need a disruptive tenant provision in the rent stabilization ordinance?

No other rent-control city has such a provision. And it is not clear how it will work should a disruptive tenant determination, whichever way it is decided, moves to superior court on appeal.

Moreover, state law already allows a landlord to terminate the tenancy of a nuisance tenant. Pursuant to Civil Code Section 3479 a ‘nuisance’ is defined this way:

Anything which is injurious to health, including, but not limited to, the illegal sale of controlled substances, or is indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property, or unlawfully obstructs the free passage or use, in the customary manner, of any navigable lake, or river, bay, stream, canal, or basin, or any public park, square, street, or highway, is a nuisance.

Case law has further focused the definition of nuisance where it concerns tenancy. It is understood to include:

  • the use or sale of controlled substances;
  • permitting illegal gambling, lewdness, prostitution or other criminal activities to occur;
  • unlawful distribution of weapons and gang activity more broadly; and,
  • conduct that is generally injurious to public health or morals.

That’s what the Landlord’s Law Book says in a Chapter 12 excerpt concerning nuisances.

So why maintain a local rent control provision that establishes a lower bar for evicting a rent-stabilized household? Our ordinance defines ‘disruptive’ as repeatedly disturbing a neighbor’s peaceful and quiet enjoyment or bullying and/or intimidating a fellow tenant. That is undesirable conduct, to be sure, but it falls short of what the courts have adjudicated as a nuisance.

Not only do we NOT support moving disruptive tenant proceedings to a hearing officer; we want suggest to city council that we eliminate entirely the unique and potentially harmful disruptive tenant provision from our rent stabilization ordinance.

One final note: the disruptive tenant provision applies only to tenancies which are rent-stabilized. Households that rent newer accommodations which are categorically exempted from rent control in Beverly Hills, as well as all rented condos and single-family homes, are not subject to the provision. Those tenancies may instead be regulated under the less tenant-friendly Tenant Protection Act. Ironically, landlords who would evict such a tenant would have to meet the higher bar of the state law’s definition of nuisance! They would have greater protection in this regard than would rent-stabilized households who would be subject to a hearing officer’s determination under our local lower standard.

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