One of the things I’m thankful for is the quiet enjoyment of my apartment with friends and family on Thanksgiving. Quiet enjoyment is my right as a tenant (the court has ruled) and I am thankful that my property management company conducts business professionally to allow it. That includes responding to problems relatively quickly – something that every tenant should be able to take that for granted.
Update: Tenants and landlords looking forward to a final rent stabilization policy for Beverly Hills will have to wait a while longer. On November 21st City Council handed over to a national consulting firm, HR&A Advisors, the task of rent stabilization analysis. The consultant will undertake data collection, analysis, and even convene additional facilitated dialogues, culminating in a process that may unfold over the next 18-22 weeks. That extends the timeline for the rent stabilization discussion to nearly to years between the time that Council issued an urgency ordinance last January and the conclusion of the policy process by the new year.
During the the facilitated dialogues this summer, Beverly Hills landlords sat across the table from our tenants committee and opposed, in every way they could muster, the registry of rental units at the heart of the city’s rent stabilization program. It is a means to hold landlords accountable, of course, and that’s why they have embraced a scorched-earth campaign (and even a lawsuit) to pressure City Council to stop it. At the same time, a landlord has sought from the city all tenant complaints to code enforcement, including communications about unit conditions and rent increases. How do we know? I filed my own public records request on the landlord. Is potential tenant intimidation a step too far?
Last week much attention was focused on winners and losers. Republicans in the House of Representatives narrowly passed a budget resolution (‘blueprint’ it was called) as a step toward tax cuts. While sold as a middle-class cut, analysts say that the middle-class will pick up the $1.5 trillion tab for the breaks afforded to corporations and the wealthy. There will be the inevitable horse-trading over the coming weeks but we can be sure of one thing: corporations will win BIG and landlords as a class will benefit too.
I’ve met many lovely people while walking my dog. There’s Ross, a newly-married young guy who, with his wife, resides in their duplex down the block. Our pups don’t really spark but Ross and I chat amiably a few mornings a week. Then there’s Dick, the retired physician who owns an immaculate fourplex around the corner. I’ve seen him on morning walks with his beagle Alice for years. This community-minded guy even picks up the litter on my block!
Listening to tenants talk in City Council or at the facilitated dialogues I am astounded that significant health and safety issues go unreported. Situations where a property’s structure is compromised or where in-apartment conditions beg for an inspector from code enforcement. I also understand that some tenants fear retaliation and don’t want to go on record. But others might contact the city if they know to reach out, and how to make that complaint effective. Here I walk through the steps to file and online complaint and highlight how the form allows for filing a complaint anonymously.
Have you received a notice from the city asking you to confirm your rent as reported by the landlord? Appeal notices went out last Thursday to many – but not all – households that rent in Beverly Hills. If you did not yet receive one, don’t be alarmed; there may be a good reason (scroll down for more about that). If you did receive a notice, please pay attention in case you have been notified of an incorrect rent amount. Correct and certified rents is the foundation of any rent stabilization program, and that’s why the city created a rental registry in the first place!
City Council in Tuesday’s September 19th evening session adopted a resolution to create the rental unit registry. It was a formality, really. Council had decided to move ahead with it on September 5th despite a small parade of landlords who argued that the registry was not only unlawful but too costly and the product of an improper process. Councilmembers brushed those self-serving arguments aside, however, and at this meeting merely needed to adopt a resolution to formalize their decision. After hearing a few landlords again mount a last-chance campaign, the registry got Council’s OK in mere minutes.
After winding its way though the policy machinery for the past year, Beverly Hills City Council has unanimously supported a policy to regulate smoking in multifamily properties (including condominium buildings). Councilmembers spoke up strongly on Tuesday in favor of banning smoking in all apartments, for both new and existing tenancies, and will phase-in the prohibition over an accelerated one-year period. That means all smoking ceases in multifamily properties by January 1, 2019. Read the press release.
In my previous post I dispensed with the landlords’ disingenuous argument that the city’s business tax drives up their cost of operating rental housing. Their demand for a 7% allowed annual rent increase because of a 1.2% business tax is ridiculous on its face (and poor logic), I said. Then I closed with a question: the landlords complain about the business tax, but how many actually pay it? I surveyed rental properties in my neighborhood and found that 1-in-10 landlords not only pay no tax, they aren’t even licensed to conduct business, according to city records.
Tenants hear landlords time and again say they need a 7% annual rent increase because the cost of doing business here is higher than elsewhere. Without fail they point to what they say is our city’s too-high business tax. “In Beverly Hills we pay ten times the business tax that we would in Los Angeles!” While the tax is higher in Beverly Hills than Los Angeles, the landlords’ argument they need a fat annual increase is simply not persuasive. The tax is flat and predictable and has nothing whatsoever to do with a rent increase. What’s more, it is a cost of doing business that is already built into our rents!
Now that City Council has agreed to go forward with the rent stabilization program, proponents and opponents are continuing the policy dialogue in the media. Thankfully, recent exchanges have reflected the comity we enjoyed during the facilitated sessions. But some would malign, though personal attacks, anyone who would speak up with a different vision of a better Beverly Hills. Here we rebut Nathan Hirsch’s September 8th letter to the Courier – a model of how NOT to conduct a public dialog.
Mayor Bosse tonight was able tonight to focus councilmembers on several key issues that are necessary to move the rent stabilization program forward: proceeding with a rental registry, funding the program, and hiring a deputy director. There were other areas of council agreement, too, like forming a tenant-landlord committee or board and enact new habitability standards. While the program moved forward, though, the next steps are unclear. Should the key policy questions go to a Council workshop? Get tossed back to the community for more dialogues? Let’s take a look at were councilmembers at the September 5, 2017 meeting were able to find consensus.
We on the tenants committee have read Professor Singh’s summary report and commend his considerable time-investment and efforts to familiarize himself with the city’s rent stabilization policies. We particularly appreciate Professor Singh’s sensitivity to tenants’ concerns about the power imbalance. That concern makes reconsideration of no-just-cause eviction for us a priority. Read the tenants’ position on that policy and others in our open letter to City Council.
Ever since Beverly Hills City Council last January created a rental unit registry to underpin our stabilization program, staffers have been watching the calendar as the days get crossed-off: come January 22nd we will mark one year since the urgency ordinance was adopted, and state law says that any effort to create a rental unit registry (which certifies permissible rents) must resolve all landlord and tenant appeals within a one-year window. Time is running out. Can you step up on behalf of the registry and program?
Facilitator Sukhsimranjit Singh wrapped up dialogue #7 like a man with a mission. When tenants and landlords seemed divided on the allowed annual rent increase, Singh leaned in. “Let’s close the gap – I give the power to you but we need to move forward.” Moving forward is a challenge, though, when tenants and landlords cannot to come to agreement, even conceptually, on how to determine an allowed annual rent increase. Here’s my takeaway from the final facilitated dialogue that hinged on that critical policy recommendation.
Facilitator Sukhsimranjit Singh approached dialogue #7 with an agenda that focused on several items from the previous table dialogue: the annual rent increase; relocation fees; no-just-cause tenancy terminations; and exemptions from rent stabilization for up to 4-unit structures. (For background read dialogue #5 recap and dialogue #6 recap.) In this final facilitated dialogue, though, landlords and tenants found little more to agree on. This is my recap.
At the second roundtable dialogue #6 (August 13th), tenants and landlords seemed to find some areas of common agreement, including the formation of a tenant-landlord committee and that every apartment renting and leasing business should be registered and paying business tax. (Currently not all do.) But there were key differences in how we viewed these and many issues. Here is my takeaway from that meeting. Please read the full recap for all of the details.
This past Sunday, City of Beverly Hills convened the second roundtable dialogue involving committees of tenants and landlords. “We are moving towards a middle ground,” Facilitator Sukhsimranjit Singh said. “We will try to conclude these issues today without war stories.” Like July’s dialogue #5, this dialogue #6 was organized to allow representatives from each side an opportunity to search for common interests in a focused, facilitated discussion. What follows is my summary. (Don’t need to read the details? Read my takeaway from this the session.)
City Council in January created a registry of rental units to identify every rental property owner in the city and to inventory the apartments that are occupied, available for rent, or otherwise off the rental market. The registry is KEY to the rent stabilization program, which is why rental housing business owners are trying by hook and by crook to torpedo the registry in order to sink the program it. Let’s take a closer look at the landlords’ objections.