Landlords could no longer renovate occupied apartments without a tenant’s consent and would be prohibited from subdividing rent-controlled units under a resolution the Rent Control Board is recommending to City Council.

Landlords are renovating and subdividing apartments to displace long-term tenants, said board member Anastasia Foster. They can then charge higher rents to new tenants or take in even more rent if they subdivide rent-controlled units and rent them as medium-term, furnished vacation rentals or corporate housing. Foster said many tenants believe they have to leave their apartments either temporarily or permanently or take illegal buyouts.

“Voluntary renovations should not force tenants to relocate,” Foster said. “If you want to renovate an empty unit, that’s fine.”

Board members urged Council Thursday to create a new local law that only allows landlords to make necessary repairs, not cosmetic or optional upgrades, to an occupied apartment unless the tenant agrees to renovations. The board is also asking Council to enact a law barring landlords from subdividing rent-controlled apartments.

Council moved in December to prohibit medium-term rentals in Santa Monica’s residential areas but board members said the city is still losing rent-controlled apartments to subdivision on a daily basis.

Council will also vote Tuesday whether to ban apartments smaller than 375 square feet after WS Communities, an offshoot of NMS, filed applications to build six buildings downtown entirely composed of micro-apartments.

“There needs to be an immediate moratorium on the carving up of units,” said board chair Caroline Torosis.

Landlords can get permits from the city to reconfigure their units up to the very limit of what the current law allows, said Stephen Lewis, the board’s general counsel.

“This makes the units unattractive to anyone looking for a permanent dwelling,” he said.

Although renovations to rent-controlled apartments don’t preclude them from being used as permanent housing, they often displace long-term tenants, Lewis said. State law stipulates that a property owner may only enter a tenant’s apartment to perform work that’s either necessary or that the tenant has agreed to, but landlords are using renovation permits from the City to convince tenants they can enter their apartments for however long they need to complete renovations.

“The responsibility to respect state law requirements regarding entry to a tenant’s unit ultimately belongs to the property owner,” Rebecca Sherman, the board’s senior litigation counsel, wrote in the resolution. “But by granting a permit the City inevitably gives the impression that the owner has full authority to perform the work contemplated by the permit, despite the limits of state law.”

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  1. Some landlords have good intendions and care about their investments, unfortunatelt. some choose to milk the system, abuse state laws and use city codes and judiciary machinery to commit fraud.

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