The City Council is set to raise fines for unlawfully evicting rent-controlled tenants and operating vacation rentals.
The fine increases follow the council’s request last month to review fines for violations of laws designed to protect Santa Monica’s tenants and preserve affordable housing. Staff has recommended levying higher fines on people who take units off the housing market or convert rent-controlled units into market-rate units.
The council will vote whether to increase fines at its Tuesday meeting.
Under the city’s home-sharing ordinance, it is illegal for residents to turn permanent housing into vacation rentals by renting out the entire unit. They may, however, rent out rooms in their homes if they are present during guests’ stays.
City staff recommends that the council increase the fine for operating a vacation rental to $1,000 per offense.
“Although enforcement of the home-sharing ordinance has had success in assuring the return of hundreds of vacation rentals to the permanent residential market, enforcement against those who have removed multiple units from Santa Monica’s housing stock to pursue profitable vacation rental businesses has proved challenging with fines that amount to a fraction of the rental profits,” staff wrote.
Landlords who use the Ellis Act to rent rent-controlled units at market rates would be subject to a $1,000 fine if the council adopts staff’s recommendations. The current fine is $75.
The 1985 state law allows landlords to evict tenants if they want to leave the rental business, but many owners of rent-controlled properties have used it to temporarily take units off the market and re-rent them at market rates.
Staff also recommend a $1,000 fine for landlords who evict tenants in buildings with a combination of condominium and rent-controlled units.
That prohibition was instated after voters passed the Tenant Ownership Rights Charter Amendment (TORCA) in 1984. TORCA, which expired in 1996, allowed apartment buildings to be converted into condominiums as long as a sufficient number of tenants approved the conversion and agreed to purchase their units.
An ordinance accompanying TORCA prohibited landlords from evicting tenants in units that were being converted to condominiums prior to 1984.
“The ordinance clarified that tenants in buildings that were being converted had eviction protections under the rent control law and that sellers and purchasers could only evict tenants as indicated in the rent control law,” staff wrote.
Staff believes raising the fine for violating the ordinance from $75 to $1,000 will deter landlords from evicting those tenants to raise rents.
Earlier this year, staff recommended raising the fine applied to landlords who prevent tenants from accessing their units to try to recover possession of a rent-controlled unit. The council approved increasing the previously $75 fine to $500.
The City Council will meet Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall, 1685 Main St.