CITY HALL — Santa Monica city officials, long praised and decried for their staunch defense of renters’ rights, are looking to extend to all tenants protections guaranteed by a harassment ordinance for rent-controlled apartments, as well as mandate extra money for those forced to relocate from their homes.

The concept was brought before the City Council for discussion last Tuesday by Adam Radinsky, head of the Consumer Protection Division for the City Attorney’s Office, on behalf of the Rent Control Board.

The tenant harassment ordinance prevented landlords of rent controlled-apartments from forcing tenants out in order to raise rents to higher-priced market value before it got locked in again under a new tenant.

Rent control laws do not apply to apartments built after 1979.

The change in the harassment ordinance recommended by the Rent Control Board would extend those protections to all renters with just cause eviction protections, which were guaranteed under the 2010 voter Measure RR.

Measure RR ensured that renters would get “reasonable time” to correct violations of rental agreements except for non-payment of rent, and prevents most landlords from evicting elderly, disabled and terminally ill tenants.

Although landlords of market rate apartments don’t have the same motivations to toss out their tenants, there’s still enough to warrant protections, Radinsky said.

According to the staff report, tenants in federal rent programs or deed-restricted apartments might be subject to harassment from landlords, as well as those who complain too much about code violations.

“There are compelling examples,” Radinsky said. “There is no downside to extending those protections across the board.”

City Councilman Kevin McKeown stood behind the extension, saying that it would help cover residents new to Santa Monica.

“Everyone deserves fair treatment and reasonable stability in their housing, and we are moving to provide those to as many people as possible,” McKeown said.

The council also looked at increasing the amount of money for renters that are forced to relocate when landlords take properties off the rental market.

The process, which uses a state law called the Ellis Act, lets owners evict tenants with the understanding that the property cannot come back onto the market for several years.

Landlords must also pay tenants a relocation benefit to leave.

According to Radinsky’s report, Santa Monica has actually lost ground to other cities like West Hollywood and Los Angeles in the amount of money guaranteed to tenants under those circumstances.

“Four years ago, we addressed the amounts and raised them. West Hollywood and Los Angeles had much larger increases based on rent values,” Radinsky told the council. “Santa Monica has fallen behind in these relocation amounts.”

As of today, the Santa Monica ordinance guarantees a minimum $5,650 payment and a maximum of $11,550. That’s compared to a range of $7,300 to $18,300 in Los Angeles and $5,100 to $17,000 in West Hollywood.

According to the staff report, both cities offer substantially higher amounts, particularly when you take into account that Santa Monica has higher average rent than either.

The increases in West Hollywood were based on problems with tenants in rent-stabilized housing not having the ready cash to put down on a new place after an Ellis eviction, said Elizabeth Savage, rent stabilization manager with West Hollywood.

“This was based on a history of Ellis-ed properties and what the actual costs were for people having to pay higher rents,” Savage said. “It was harder for tenants displaced from rent stabilized housing to find adequate affordable housing.”

Under the proposed change, Santa Monica landlords would have to pay between $7,800 and $18,750 depending on the size of the apartment in question, and whether or not the tenant qualified for extra assistance, either as a senior, disabled person or a family with children.

To make sure those that qualify get the extra benefits, the change would also get rid of a requirement that the tenant that falls into one of those three categories must have lived in the apartment since Nov. 17, 1999.

Staff recommended that because the proposed relocation fees are based on the maximum allowable rent rather than rent-controlled amounts that may no longer be valid in finding a new place to live.

Staff will bring the proposed ordinance back to the council for approval in coming months.

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