“Justice delayed is justice denied.” We all know this well-worn aphorism. It means that a remedy for an injustice should be delivered in a timely manner or otherwise it stands as no remedy at all. (Read more about the history of the phrase and a follow-up deeper-dive.) The aphorism comes to mind whenever I hear that the required relocation fee is unpaid at the time the tenant vacates the apartment. The fee is intended to assist a displaced tenant with securing replacement housing and starting again in a new apartment. But when payment is late, perhaps months late, the law, and our city, has failed that tenant. That’s why I say a relocation delayed is truly an instance where justice is denied.
City of Beverly Hills recently hosted Community Education Workshops for landlords and tenants (read my summary). The purpose of this ’community education workshop’ was stated plainly on the flyer: to provide an “overview” of the rent stabilization program. On the workshop agenda was a recap of recent changes to the rent stabilization ordinance and a heads-up about the next steps in the policy process. There was also a follow-up Q&A. However what was not on the agenda was tenant empowerment. That was a reminder: when residents who rent find ourselves on the losing side of the tenant-landlord power imbalance, we must remember that no cavalry from City Hall comes to our rescue.
City of Beverly Hills recently convened two ‘community education workshops’ where staff provided both tenants and landlords with a presentation about rent stabilization. Susan Healy Keene, Director of the Community Development Department, provided an overview of the process and then handed it over to Community Preservation Manager Nestor Otazu. He walked though the relatively recent changes to the rent stabilization ordinances and highlighted the key aspects of state law that apply to those who rent housing (and those who provide it). Here is my takeaway.
Resident ‘landlord crusader’ Dan Yukelson recently shared his thoughts about rent stabilization with the Weekly and he’s not happy! This former Planning commissioner (and current executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles) capped his career in corporate finance with the purchase of a fourplex in Beverly Hills. That looked like a good investment until City Council amended the rent stabilization law. He says it crimps his cash flow and now he’s got buyer’s remorse. But Mr. Yukelson is no naïve investor: rental housing in Beverly Hills will always be the best place to park his investment dollar!
Landlords largely get free rein in Beverly Hills. The city mandates so few protections for those who rent, in fact, that only residents in 3% of households – those that fall under the city’s earlier Chapter 5 rent stabilization code – can feel like City Hall has their back. Most tenants’ protections derive largely from state law which means a trip to court on our own dime for an uncertain outcome. Discrimination in housing is different: state and federal law provides for significant penalties against any landlord who discriminates, and that protection is backstopped in the courts by state and federal officials and non-governmental organizations that file suit on behalf of tenants.
Tenant and landlord representatives sat down for a series of facilitated dialogues last summer to talk about a rent stabilization policy changes and we agreed that bad actors cause the most grief: predatory landlords who take advantage of tenants and problem tenants who are a thorn to landlord and neighbors alike. While landlords have the means to flag potentially-problematic tenants, though, a prospective tenant cannot do the due diligence: there exists no means to reliably vet a landlord before signing a lease. That puts the lie to caveat emptor: ‘Let the buyer beware.’
Taking in a roommate or a long-term guest seems innocuous enough. Maybe it’s a means to pay the rent or a goodwill gesture to a friend or family member. But the presence of unauthorized occupants may be a breach of the lease or rental agreement so it’s always smart to read what it allows and then secure permission from the landlord if necessary. Lets look at a couple of situations that may get the unwitting tenant into some trouble.
His landlord, Stephen Copen, served David and his his two sons with a 60-day, no-just-cause notice to evict after 29 years in his apartment at 458 South Roxbury Drive. The family’s final pack-up culminated in a harried garage sale, filled-up refuse bins and an uprooted garden. David’s priority now is simply to stay housed so his two kids can finish high school. The family’s final exit from Beverly Hills can’t come too soon for him.
Last year, Copen also threw out David’s upstairs neighbor for no cause. She had been there for 30 years. Her eviction came within a year or so after Copen bought the building, adding it to at least six other properties owned with his wife, Naghmeh Makhani. Copen is a longtime Beverly Hills rental property owner but these folks don’t even call our town home.
David’s eviction put me in mind of a remark he made to City Council exactly a year ago. There were some changes to the rent stabilization law and Copen wasn’t happy. “You haven’t discussed whether people living in a two bedroom apartment across from Roxbury park with a view of the clubhouse should maybe economize,” he told the councilmembers, before grousing further about how he “subsidized” his tenants. If you are a Copen tenant the video is worth a watch. Have you a story to share about the Copens? Something concerning no-cause evictions, sham tenants, or substandard property maintenance, perhaps? I’m all ears.
Update: with 29-year tenant David Berke out, Copen could move in a tenant for the briefest of tenures and then move that tenant out and then raise the rent to market. That’s what we’re told anyway. And that’s what he evidently did after he kicked-out David’s 30-year upstairs neighbor.
Copen evidently made few or no upgrades to the property exterior (or unit exterior) while his longtime tenants resided there. But once David was out it was a different story: time for curb appeal! A refresh of the exterior (below) and an interior renovation (without permits) repositions the property for that next lucky Copen tenant!
Surveys show that nearly one-third of us live paycheck-to-paycheck. Some of us pay over half of our household income in rent. Many tenants have little savings. And Beverly Hills allow no-just-cause eviction, which can mean an unexpected pack-up and moving expenses we can ill-afford. Because the most effective way to prevent homelessness is to ensure that people stay housed, several efforts are underway to address the challenges faced by precariously-housed tenants in California.
A petition making the rounds of Beverly Hills multifamily areas seeks to put an initiative on the November. The initiative, dryly titled ‘Expands Local Governments’ Authority To Enact Rent Control On Residential Property,’ would repeal a state law called Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act. That law since 1995 has greatly limited the reach of local governments that would extend rent control protections to tenants. Should it qualify, I hope this initiative finds support among those who rent because it is the best opportunity we have to expand tenant protections both statewide and in Beverly Hills.
Recently an apartment adjacent to mine leased quite quickly. The new tenants, nice guys all, introduced themselves. Three adult men seemed a tight fit for a one-bedroom apartment smaller than 500 square feet. It raised two questions. Why would three men rent that apartment? How many people can a landlord pack into a small place? The answer is not as straightforward as one might think. I did a little digging!
Thirty-nine years ago today, on March 27, 1979, the City of Beverly Hills enacted a “temporary system of stabilization and control of apartment rent levels.” The introduction to the Municipal Code of Chapter 5 Rent Stabilization that year was an effort to draw a line under the problem of excessive rent increases and destabilizing turnover in rental housing. Just as City Council recently observed when it adopted the original urgency ordinance last January, the cost of rental housing was moving beyond reach of residents and threatening the stability of households that rent. Then and now renters comprise more than half of all households in the city. But often protections come too little and too late. But Chapter 5 delivered for tenants.
It has been a while since residents received an update from City Hall about rent stabilization. The rental unit registry was completed in January and other aspects of program implementation have continued, yet we’ve heard nothing about either. The tenant workshops came and went nine months ago, and though City Council approved the hiring of a rent stabilization program director in September, no one has been hired for the position. This very important housing program seems not to be a priority for City Hall.
Councilmember Lili Bosse closes out her year as Mayor next week when City Council chooses the next Mayor and Vice Mayor on March 20th at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As we look ahead to our next Council leaders, Gold and Mirsch, I want to thank Mayor Bosse for her support on behalf of tenants.
Landlords and tenants tend to get anxious when hearing the term ‘mold.’ But it’s important to remember that while mold is a moisture problem, the presence of moisture isn’t necessarily a mold problem. That is, humidity creates conditions for mold to grow but toxic mold should not prevail in our relatively dry climate unless it is left unaddressed. Mold is “complicated,” as they say, and so is getting help if you suspect mold is present in your apartment.
Months have passed without a single word from Beverly Hills officials about rent stabilization reform. No press release, newspaper ad, or website update keeps us informed about the process even though the current policy is only temporary and change will come. Officials let weeks go by without a reply when asked. Even a public records request can be met with an incomplete response. And don’t get me started about the programs that must be managed better in order to properly serve tenants.
What do Republican tax cuts mean for those who rent housing? A recent opinion piece in the NY Post suggests some good news: ‘New tax law is a huge win for renters’ reads the headline. But don’t be fooled. The American Apartment Owners Association calls ‘tax reform’ a gift to landlords. Indeed headlines like ‘GOP Tax Bill Rewards Real Estate’ and ‘GOP Tax Plan Holds Benefits for Landlords’ suggest the actual beneficiaries of so-called reform. With that ‘huge win for renters’ canard out of the way, let’s have a look at the real gifts bestowed by the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. There are many!
Beverly Hills offers few protections to the 8,600 households that rent. Unlike rent-stabilized cities that prohibit no-just-cause evictions or mandate minimum habitability standards, Beverly Hills simply falls back on the state’s civil code. That means tenants are on our own to defend our housing rights in court; we can’t depend on the city to step up. It is crucial that tenants get the most we can out of the city-funded housing rights legal services program.
Beverly Hills City Council wrapped up the year with two final administrative actions. In November the city hired a consultant to conduct an economic analysis; and on December 19th City Council passed an ordinance to impose a penalty on landlords that fail to register their property: no rent increase until the property is registered in the rental unit registry. Why the new penalty? One-in-five properties still are not registered.
Beverly Hills residents take well-kept properties for granted. High-and-rising values generate resources for maintenance and, in turn, maintenance keeps property values up. But maintenance is not part of the business model for some owners of residential rental property. Instead their priority is cash flow. But scrimping on maintenance not only affects tenants; it also augurs an overall decline in the city’s rental housing stock.