CITY HALL — When the Rent Control Board makes its annual decision on the maximum allowable rent increase this summer, it will do so without Commissioner Robert Kronovet having a say.
Kronovet, who owns a six-unit, rent-controlled apartment building in Santa Monica, has been barred from voting on the rent increase by the California Fair Political Practices Commission because he stands to benefit financially from the board’s decision.
In a letter sent last week to the Rent Control Agency’s general counsel, Michaelyn Jones, the commission said Kronovet may not vote on the increase or participate in discussions about the rent increase in any way because the board’s decision will have a “reasonably foreseeable material financial effect on his residential rental properties.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Kronovet said the FPPC’s decision represents a double standard, because other commissioners are tenants in rent-controlled buildings who also stand to benefit from the board’s decision but will be allowed to vote on the increase.
“This is outrageous. This is censorship, pure and simple,” he said.
Two commissioners, Marilyn Korade-Wilson and Christopher Braun, live in rent-controlled apartments, Jones said, but aren’t barred from participating in the decision under FPPC rules.
She said Braun won’t be affected by this year’s rent increase because of a pre-existing lease agreement. In an interview, Braun said he recently moved into a rent-controlled apartment but is paying market rate under a lease he signed this year. If he stays in his apartment and is subject to the board-determined increase in future years, Jones said his eligibility to participate in the rent increase vote will be subject to review.
Korade-Wilson, who is a month-to-month tenant, will be subject to the increase but is not considered to have a conflict, Jones said. The FPPC doesn’t consider those without leases to have material interests in property, and therefore doesn’t consider month-to-month tenants to have special interests in decisions affecting rents.
“The FPPC rules are very complicated,” Jones said. “And their interpretation is the one that matters.”
Kronovet last year voted on the rent increase, opposing the majority’s decision to adopt a 1 percent maximum rent hike. In an interview, Kronovet said he had favored allowing a 3 percent increase.
Kronovet owned the same six-unit building at the time of the rent increase vote last year, but nobody at the agency was then aware of the FPPC’s position.
Jones said she looked into the possibility that Kronovet had a conflict after learning about the FPPC’s decision last July to prohibit San Francisco Supervisor Sophenia Maxwell, an owner of seven apartment units, from voting on ordinances that would affect allowable rental rates.
The commission’s letter explaining why Kronovet is banned from voting on the rental increase, dated April 30, details the financial gain Kronovet could stand to reap from the board’s decision.
The letter states that since 1993, Santa Monica’s Rent Control Board has voted for annual increases between 1 percent and 4.2 percent. Kronovet’s property generates at least $7,364 per month in rent, so a rent hike of 4.2 percent would increase its income producing potential by $3,700 annually, the commission stated.
The commission said those who own three or fewer rental units are generally permitted to vote on decisions affecting landlords and tenants.
Without Kronovet, the rent increase decision will be made by the four other commissioners.
Jones said this is the first time she’s aware of that a commissioner has been barred from participating in the rent increase decision.
“No one’s happy about telling somebody that they’re disqualified,” she said. “But the FPPC means business.”
Commissioner Braun said he acknowledges Kronovet’s dissatisfaction at being barred from the vote.
“I understand his frustration because when you’re an elected official by the people you like to be able to vote on what you’re there for,” he said.