Anyone who knowingly lies on paperwork submitted to the city of Santa Monica could face a $1,000 fine, six months in jail or both.
The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to prohibit lying on official documents and in investigations. The measure is intended to prevent City Hall from making decisions based on false statements, which it defines as false, misleading or fraudulent statements or representations, said city attorney Lane Dilg.
The council on Aug. 13 asked city staff to strengthen laws protecting tenants and affordable housing, which resulted in the council raising fines for operating vacation rentals and unlawfully evicting tenants.
Councilmembers also asked staff to review whether a prohibition on false claims existed in the municipal code because some property owners and home-sharing hosts had lied to the city on official forms.
Dilg said city staff learned in the review that the city did not have a generally applicable “false statements against the government” provision and had only a few provisions that dealt with false statements made in the city’s jurisdiction.
“In response, we’re proposing an ordinance that would follow federal law in prohibiting false statements to the government to the extent that they are knowingly made and material, that is, non-trivial and having a natural tendency to influence official city action,” Dilg said.
McKeown said the new rule would, for example, apply to people who move into Ellised buildings and lied to the city that they are not paying rent. The Ellis Act is a 1985 state law that allows landlords to evict tenants in order to get out of the rental business, which means that property owners are not allowed to collect rent on Ellised properties.
“One reason why this has been suggested is that there has, as best we can tell, been abuse of people filling out forms that have to do with housing matters and not doing so fully truthfully,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.
Dilg said the ordinance would only apply to statements made during official documents and investigative interviews.
“It would not apply, for example, in a street stop or chance encounter, only in an official investigation,” she said.
Nor would it apply to statements made to the City Council during council meetings.
“City staff has no interest in enforcing a false statements provision (during council meetings) as it could impact the ability of members of the public to come and speak freely to you,” Dilg said.
The city will notify the public of the rule before they complete any city forms, she added.