The upcoming meeting of the Rent Control Board will include discussions to help renters get paid and potentially avoid paying out.
Two long-gestating items will return for discussion at the April 9 meeting. The board is expected to finally make a decision regarding collection of buyout agreements and also give direction regarding who will pay for excessive water use in multi-unit buildings.
The City Council recently updated its anti-harassment laws regarding renters. Part of that update included a requirement that buyout agreements be filed with the Rent Control Board or the City Clerk. Renters’ rights activists have expressed concern about the agreements — private contracts between a landlord and tenant that provide a lump sum if the tenant agrees to leave — saying tenants are often denied access to enough information to make an informed decision.
Opponents of municipal data collection have said a publicly searchable database would compromise constitutionally guaranteed rights to privacy.
The board has been debating the issue for several months and decided at its March meeting to mandate a disclosure of rights form that landlords would have to provide to tenants, but the board tabled discussion of collecting agreements while staff attempted to address the privacy concerns.
According to the staff report, the board is being asked to collect executed buyout agreements, store those agreements separately from other publicly accessible data and limit access to board members or staff for the use of preventing abuse or compiling reports that do not compromise private financial information.
“No one who appeared at the board’s January and February meetings — including those who argued most strongly in favor of the board’s collecting buyout agreements — suggested that the public interest would be served by revealing which tenant accepted from which landlord a specific sum of money in a private buyout contract,” the report reads. “Rather, it was suggested, it is important for the board to see the agreements only to monitor them for potential abuse, and for the public to be apprised of aggregate data collected, to understand the extent to which buyout agreements are occurring in the community, and thereby understand the degree to which the city is losing its stock of long-term controlled rental housing to buyouts.”
The board will also debate the potential passthrough of any penalties associated with excessive water usage.
Santa Monica has issued an emergency water declaration that mandates a 20-percent reduction in water use from 2013 levels. Customers who have already implemented water conservation efforts may be exempt from the mandated cuts of their use falls below a specified threshold but otherwise, water customers are limited to 80 percent of their 2013 usage for each two-month period. Penalties will be enforced for those that go over based on the quantity of waste.
The board has been asked to decide who will pay for water overage penalties in multi-unit housing. As a majority of Santa Monica buildings are on a single water meter, there is no way to charge individual renters for their use, or overages. During past droughts, the board has authorized a temporary system for distributing the cost of overages amongst all tenants of a given building. However, some commissioners have expressed concern that new passthroughs could be used as a tool to harass tenants.
At the April 9 meeting, the board is being asked to discuss the concept of a passthrough. If the board decides it is necessary, staff will be asked to return at a future meeting with a proposed ordinance.
The Rent Control Board will meet on April 9 at City Hall, 1685 Main St. Closed session begins at 6 p.m., open session begins at 7 p.m. Visit www.smgov.net/Current_Board_Meetings.aspx for more information.