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The Rent Control Board wants landlords to prove they’re doing everything they can to save water before allowing any penalties to be passed along to tenants.
When City Council approved penalties for water wasters — penalties that will show up on water bills later this year — they left it up to the board to decide how to handle penalties facing landlords who pay the water bill for an entire building.
Last week, the board discussed the issue, directing Rent Control officials to return with an ordinance that might allow landlords to pass some penalty costs on to renters if the landlords have done what they can make the apartments water efficient.
About four out of five apartment buildings are currently operating below the threshold, which was established by council to protect residents who’ve already been saving water. Any water user above that threshold will have to use 20 percent less this year than they did over the same period of time in 2013.
Many landlords simply pay the cost of water for the entire building because they don’t have water meters for each individual apartment and therefore can’t determine what each tenant should be charged.
“As with life in the United States, you got to be held accountable and I think that, with those extreme cases, having them have skin in the game is something that’s reasonable and that holds them accountable just as anybody else would be accountable,” said Boardmember Steve Duron. “I am not opposed to the pass-through when it makes sense.”
Boardmembers Todd Flora and Christopher Walton both expressed an interest in denying any potential pass-through, claiming that landlords falsely cry poverty and that pass-throughs could lead to tenant harassment.
“Multi-family residents are being the most efficient and I don’t think we should make any assumptions that they need to be taught for the first time, as if they’re unaware of the drought, or their part in conserving water, whether they’re paying for it or not,” Flora said, “so I want to make sure we’re being very careful about the way we speak of tenants: That they’re not a bunch of dummies that don’t care about the amount of water they’re using.”
Walton put forth a motion to deny pass-throughs but was not supported by his colleagues on the matter.
Boardmember Nicole Phillis suggested an incremental pass through: The more water efficiency boxes checked by the landlord, the greater percentage of pass-through allowed. If a landlord installed very low flow toilets, for instance, they might be allowed to pass 20 percent of the penalties through to tenants. If they got drought tolerant landscaping and installed very low flow toilets, that percentage might jump to 25 percent.
Phillis also suggested a hardship exception for low-income tenants.
Flora expressed a willingness to hear what Rent Control officials could come up with.
“I don’t necessarily think this should be happening but if leaving an opening for pass-throughs encourages landlords to take these steps that Californians should be taking, and paying more attention to what their gardeners are doing, and what they’re watering — and a lot of it isn’t lawns, it’s sidewalks — I think those things need to come first,” he said.
Rent Control officials will return with potential regulations for the board to review later this year.
Rent board to track buyout agreements
When a landlord buys a renter out of his or her apartment, the transaction will be registered with the Rent Control Board. Concerned that tenants might be being coerced into leaving their rent-controlled apartments, and thereby allowing landlords to raise rents to market rate, City Council asked that all buyouts be registered.
The Rent Control Board agreed to be the keepers of the information.
The amount of the buyout and the neighborhood in which it occurred will be publicly available but the specific names of the landlord and tenant, and the address of the unit, will remain private.

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