Tenants in rent-controlled duplexes and triplexes would receive between $15,000 and $30,000 in relocation assistance when their landlords decontrol the building and dramatically increase the rent under an ordinance the City Council unanimously adopted this week.
When an owner of a duplex or triplex moves into the building, the remaining units in the building become exempt from rent control and subject to rent increases beyond what is allowed under the city’s rent control laws, said city attorney Lane Dilg.
With the new rules, if a tenant’s unit becomes exempt and the rent increases beyond the limit set by rent control, the tenant can either choose to stay in the unit and pay the increased rent or receive relocation benefits from the landlord to ensure they can move to a new location, Dilg said.
Landlords of properties with four or more apartments already must pay relocation assistance if a building is decontrolled or if tenants are evicted under the Ellis Act.
Rent Control Board member Anastasia Foster said she suggested extending relocation assistance to tenants in duplexes and triplexes to the council because the Rent Control Board grants owner-occupancy exemptions for those types of buildings once or twice a month, which almost always means the landlord is intending to increase the rent beyond what tenants can pay.
Those tenants are usually unable to find another apartment they can afford in Santa Monica, Foster said. They are therefore forced to leave and do not receive relocation assistance because they lived in a duplex or triplex.
Councilmember Ted Winterer, who directed staff to create the ordinance last month, said the measure is designed to keep Santa Monicans in their homes. Landlords who choose to move into a unit typically do so to raise the rent from, for example, $1,000 to $2,000 to $3,000, Winterer said.
“That’s a constructive eviction — they can’t suddenly pay two to three times as much rent as they’ve been paying,” he said. “We’re faced with a shortage of affordable housing and a homelessness crisis … if (landlords) are going to get that extra $20,000 per year, then let’s get relocation benefits for those tenants.”
The city has required property owners to pay relocation assistance since 1986, alongside nearby cities like Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.
Santa Monica’s current fees are $15,850 for a studio, $21,800 for a one-bedroom and $30,350 for two or more bedrooms. The fees increase $1,000 to $2,000 if the household includes a senior, person with a disability or a minor.
The City Council adopted that fee schedule in January. Since 2011, tenants in studios received $9,950 and tenants in one-bedrooms received $15,300. Those in apartments with two or more bedrooms received $20,750.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the council also voted to give affordable housing waitlist priority to income-quality households displaced by owner-occupancy rent decontrol and to explore whether such households could qualify for priority for federally funded housing vouchers.