CITY HALL — Apartment owners are threatening to sue City Hall if the City Council adopts a proposal that would give tenants more time to fix lease violations before they could be evicted.
The council last week voted to direct staff to begin drafting an ordinance that would require landlords to give tenants a seven-day warning before issuing a three-day notice to “perform or quit.”
Councilman Kevin McKeown said the proposed change would “increase civility and stability in local housing” by mandating that tenants get a reasonable amount of time to fix “remediable rental problems” before an eviction notice could be served.
He said the proposal would not prevent landlords from acting quickly to kick out tenants who are engaging in criminal activity or who fail to pay rent on time.
“This would apply to circumstances like plants on a balcony, storage, pets, inappropriate painting or alterations,” all of which have been used as reasons for a sudden eviction with a so-called “three day notice,” he said.
Rosario Perry, the general counsel for the Action Apartment Association, a landlord group, argued City Hall doesn’t have the authority to require a week-long warning period. He said the proposed ordinance attempts to illegally preempt state law.
“If they pass it we’re going to sue them. We’re not going to allow something like this,” he said.
The proposal, which was placed on the agenda by McKeown and Councilwoman Gleam Davis, both influential members of the political party Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, stems from an appellate court’s decision in a case brought against the city of Oakland by an association of apartment owners.
That case, Rental Housing Authority of Northern Alameda County v. City of Oakland, McKeown said, provides the legal precedent for mandating the seven-day warning.
Perry, though, said case law remains unsettled on the issue.
“There’s other cases that say the exact opposite,” he said, pointing to an earlier California appellate court decision in the case, Tri County Apartment Association v. City of Mountain View, which he said held that cities cannot make “procedural” changes to eviction laws.
McKeown said he stands by the council’s decision to pursue the proposal. He cited the decision in the Oakland case, which stated that “notice requirements … regulate the substantive grounds for eviction, rather than the procedural remedy available to the landlord once grounds for eviction have been established.”
While McKeown and other tenant advocates have said the proposed ordinance would prevent people from being evicted on technicalities and minor violations, Wes Wellman, head of the Action Apartment Association, said he fears the seven-day warning requirement would “likely accomplish results at odds with its objectives.”
He said most three-day notices to fix a problem or be evicted come after amicable efforts to encourage tenants to comply have been ignored or refused.
“By mandating an additional formal step in the process, with legal implications, the process will become less personalized with owners abandoning informal measures and, instead, turning enforcement over to attorneys to avoid delays and new legal land mines,” he said.