Naomi Sultan.

Name: Naomi Sultan

Age: 44

Occupation: Veterans’ Rights Attorney

Neighborhood of residence: Ocean Park

Own/Rent: Rent

Marital status: Single

Kids: 0

Political affiliation: Democrat

Square footage of current home: Approx. 700

Why should homeowners or market rate renters care about the status of rent control?

Rent control helps preserve neighborhood stability and diversity. Without rent control, only wealthy people would be able to rent in Santa Monica. Seniors and veterans with limited fixed incomes, young families, students, and low-income workers would be excluded from our housing market. We all benefit when our neighborhoods host people of a wide range of ages, occupations, and experiences.

How many resources are and should be put into ensuring tenants adhere to rent control rules vs. pursuing landlords who behave badly?

I support putting additional city resources into combatting the harassment of tenants and the loss of our affordable housing stock. When tenants report code violations and/or landlord harassment, the city needs to act expeditiously on their concerns. Corporations skirting regulations to turn formerly rent-controlled apartments into exorbitant corporate housing and hotel rooms is particularly alarming. 

Have you watched any real-estate based TV shows? If so which ones?

Little House on the Prairie was my favorite TV show growing up. I identified strongly with Laura Ingalls, who was a bit of a free-thinking tomboy. I love seeing old pictures of Santa Monica from that era, back when people still travelled P.C.H. by horse-drawn carriage.

Do you think landlords are currently getting a “fair return” on their investments via the annual rent adjustment formula?

Santa Monicans voted on the annual adjustment formula in the Rent Control Law. The Law also provides landlords due process if they are not earning a fair return. Landlords can petition the Rent Control Board for an upward rent adjustment based on the expenses they are facing in their particular situation. If landlords take advantage of this process, they should be earning a fair return.

What qualifies you to lead an organization with the budget and responsibilities of the Rent Control Board?

In response Los Angeles’ burgeoning homelessness crisis, I created, implemented, and managed a medical-legal partnership between two Los Angeles non-profits, which provided legal services to hundreds of homeless and at-risk veterans with disabilities. I am prepared for the responsibilities of the Rent Control Board due to my front-line experience combating the housing crisis and my extensive knowledge of laws impacting renters.

How long have you kept a houseplant alive and what does that kind of plant say about your personality?

My longest living houseplant is actually an “officeplant”—inherited in 2015—living in my office at work. It has grown long, wild, and free. I’ve had to repot it twice and it could benefit from an even bigger home. It curls up and around my office walls so I put up a Dolores Huerta poster for it to frame.

 Is there anything the Rent Control Board can or should do to encourage individuals to buy into Santa Monica real estate and operate rent controlled buildings?

We don’t want to encourage current owners to sell their rent-controlled buildings. 41% of Ellis evictions occur within the first year after a building is sold. The Rent Control Board can ensure Santa Monica landlords make a fair return on their rent-controlled buildings through the voter-approved petition process discussed above.

Does the city have a housing crisis, affordability crisis, neither or both?

Santa Monica has both. Housing production has not kept up with demand. At the same time, wages and disability benefits have not kept up with increasing rents. Consequently, anyone who is low- or middle-income cannot enter the rental market, and working folks attempting to raise families or age in place face increasing pressures.

Which television character has the least realistic living situation?

I guess everybody already knows that the Friends apartment was super unrealistic. I used to live in New York and I didn’t know anyone with an apartment that awesome who wasn’t wealthy. I really hope that Santa Monica is able to maintain its economic diversity in a way that New York City has been unable to do.

What role does rent control play in establishing the culture of the city?

Santa Monica prizes diversity and community safety and stability. Rent control protects affordability, which in turn protects ethnic, age, and economic diversity. Rent control also creates stability for our neighborhoods because people stay in one place and become part of the fabric of the community. This makes our communities safer, happier places to be.   

Tenant evictions were already increasing before Prop. 10 became part of the discussion. If new limits are imposed on market rate rents, what’s to stop Ellis Act evictions from exploding if landlords flee the market?

The Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which Proposition 10 would repeal, placed three significant limits on local rent control laws. First, it limited rent control to buildings built before 1979 (in Santa Monica). Second, it prevented rent control from covering single-family dwellings (Berkeley had this). And third, it prevented cities from limiting rent increases between tenancies, requiring what is known as “vacancy decontrol.”

According to the Rent Control Board’s 2017 Annual Report, Ellis evictions have actually been down over the last 10 years. 2017 saw only 56 rental units removed from the market, even less than the previous year. Of course, any Ellis Act eviction is a loss to our community of both a neighbor and an affordable rental unit, so it is important to do as much as we can to prevent Ellis evictions – including passing Proposition 10.

If we look at the history of our city, the passage of Costa-Hawkins in 1995 actually led to a increase in Ellis Act evictions in the late-1990s. In 2000, the year after Costa-Hawkins went fully into effect, we saw a major spike in Ellis activity, with over 200 rental units lost to the market. This is because vacancy decontrol increased property values, so landlords were incentivized to sell and speculators to buy.

If Proposition 10 passes, land values will continue to stabilize, encouraging landlords to hold on to their properties longer and discouraging speculators who are planning to turn around and evict all the rent-controlled tenants from investing in Santa Monica real estate. 

What is the most significant threat to the stability of housing for renters, and what are your solutions?

The most significant threat to housing stability is tenant harassment and the loss of our affordable housing stock due in large part to vacancy decontrol. Before Costa-Hawkins, Santa Monica’s Rent Control law limited the extent to which landlords could raise rents between tenants. Vacancy control prevented harassment of current tenants and kept Santa Monica rents affordable. In 1997, before Costa-Hawkins was fully into effect, I landed my first job after college working as a waitress at a local restaurant, and was able to find lovely Santa Monica apartment just off Montana Avenue for approximately $600 per month. I could afford to live in Santa Monica on a waitress’ salary because vacancy control was still in effect, and my landlord had not been permitted to raise the rent dramatically when the previous tenant moved out.

More than 20 years later, we now live in a run-away Santa Monica housing market made possible by vacancy decontrol. In 2018, a waitress or hotel worker making $15 per hour would have to work 107 hours per work to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica – that’s more than 2 ½ full time jobs (based on the Santa Monica Housing Authority Payment Standard). In addition to keeping out low- and middle-income folks who would like to live in Santa Monica, vacancy control also puts enormous pressures on current renters, some of whom experience ongoing harassment from landlords who have a profit motivation to evict. Harassment can put a particular strain on the elderly and those with disabilities, many of whom do not have the physical, emotional, and/or economic capacity to move.

If Proposition 10 passes, Santa Monica citizens will once again be in the driver’s seat when it comes to rent control. I hope that Santa Monica citizens, in consultation with stakeholders from the both the landlord and tenant communities, will consider re-instituting some form of common sense vacancy control to increase stability for tenants and neighborhoods.

Even if Proposition 10 does not pass, there is a great deal we can do to counter tenant harassment and displacement. For example, I support strengthening our anti-harassment ordinance and increasing relocation payments to tenants who are evicted through no fault of their own. There should also be more stringent requirements surrounding buyout offers to make sure that tenants know what rights they have before they agree to anything. If possible, I would like to see the Rent Board more actively involved with tenants whose landlords want to buy them out in order to decontrol the units. For instance, if landlords were required to report any buyout offers to the Rent Board, the Rent Board could be more involved in scrutinizing buyouts and counseling tenants as to their rights while the tenant still has the opportunity to reject or rescind a buyout offer.

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1 Comment

  1. How do you offset owners cost of riding taxes and insurances when they cannot raise the rent to cover these? Making their properties less valuable, driving that market down?

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