CITY HALL — In a bid to significantly broaden the scope of tenant protections in Santa Monica, the Rent Control Board wants to bolster rules that protect against evictions and extend those protections to cover all tenants in the city, rather than just those who live in rent-controlled apartments.
To take effect, the proposed changes would require Santa Monica voters to approve several amendments to the Rent Control Agency’s charter.
Voters could get to decide on the amendments in November, if the City Council approves the Rent Control Board’s recommendations and places the proposed amendments on the ballot. The council is set to consider the proposals on June 8.
In addition to extending “just-cause” eviction protections to all tenants in Santa Monica, the proposed amendments would give renters additional time to correct lease violations before they could be served with an eviction notice and would afford added eviction protections to senior citizens and those who are disabled or terminally ill.
“Just cause” protections affect the eviction process in cases where a landlord alleges a tenant has breached a contract, created a nuisance, refused to execute a written lease extension, damaged the premises or denied the landlord access to the rented unit.
The five-member Rent Control Board on May 27 voted 4-1 to recommend that the council place the proposed charter amendments before voters. Commissioner Robert Kronovet, who owns property in the city, cast the dissenting vote.
“Especially in this economically tumultuous time I think anything the Rent Control Board can help do to provide more stability in the community through enhanced tenant protections would be good,” said Rent Control Board Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy, who requested the board take action on the proposed amendments.
Kennedy, who many believe may seek a City Council seat in this year’s municipal election, asked the board to recommend the changes after the Rent Control Agency’s annual report in May showed that 74 percent of eviction notices the agency tallied between 2005 and 2009 were for breach of contract or nuisance.
Under one of the proposed amendments, renters who receive those types of notices could be entitled to additional time to change their behavior in order to avoid eviction, said Rent Control Administrator Tracy Conden.
Conden added the proposed changes “could help stabilize the community a little bit and provide some civility in terms of the interactions between owners and tenants.”
The landlord group Action Apartment Association, though, immediately declared its opposition to the proposals.
Rosario Perry, the association’s attorney, said the proposed amendments would have “unintended and horrible consequences” for apartment owners in Santa Monica and would force landlords out of the rental business. He said he would file a lawsuit to prevent the proposals from appearing on November’s ballot.
“What they’re trying to do now is impose rent control on new units,” he said.
The proposal to give tenants additional time to correct lease violations, he said, is based on faulty legal arguments and is vulnerable to a challenge in court.
He said the idea of extending eviction protections to non rent-controlled units is essentially meaningless, because apartment owners could always just raise the rent to force a problem tenant out.
But according to a report on the proposal by the Rent Control Board’s general counsel, Maichaelyn Jones, the extension of protections to all units would afford real benefits to tenants, including those who live in units that once fell under the Rent Control Agency’s jurisdiction but lost their rent control status because of the owner-occupancy exemption.
Action’s president, Wes Wellman, also criticized the proposals as “generally unnecessary solutions in search of problems” but indicated the proposal to give elderly tenants and others with special needs may have merit.
“It is hard to argue against eviction protections for the terminally ill, the genuinely disabled or financially strapped seniors,” he said. “But loopholes should be closed for dubious disabilities induced by stress, from other creative mental origins or from substance abuse. Affluent seniors should not be shielded under the sympathetic umbrella raised for the truly needy.”
Patricia Hoffman, who chairs the political party Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, said SMRR would back the proposals if they appear on the ballot in November.
“Our highest priority is to protect people in their units so they can age in place, so anything that facilitates that, I think, is good for the tenants of Santa Monica, and ultimately good for the homeowners, too,” she said.
If the amendments are approved, it would be the fourth change to the Rent Control Agency’s charter since the rent control law was enacted in 1979. Amendments to the charter were made in 1984, 1999 and 2002, respectively.
The Rent Control Board last week also suggested the City Council consider increasing relocation fees paid to tenants who are evicted because of owner occupancy and expanding the relocation ordinance to cover more tenants.