When residents receive their November ballots they’ll see a mix of candidates, state and county propositions and potentially a City Charter amendment. Commissioners of the Rent Control Board would certainly like to see it there as they seek changes to their powers that they believe would allow them to be a stronger voice in fighting the affordable housing crisis.
Of greatest significance is a new proposed requirement to have an annual registration of all non-rent controlled units in the City. This would collect information on the occupancy status and commencement date of the current tenancy, rent prices, reason for prior tenants’ vacancy, the water/utility metering status of the unit, the amenities provided with the tenancy, and any changes in ownership.
The Rent Control Board currently receives all of this information for rent controlled units whenever a unit is vacated and re-rented. This registry aids the Board in its enforcement of rent control laws and understanding of rental rates and trends within the City. As the Board seeks to be a voice for affordable housing in the city, commissioners are interested in having a deeper understanding of the overall rental landscape in Santa Monica.
“Although we still have tenant protections in place in the county, there are significant issues where landlords are continuing to go around or creatively skirt some of the rules and of course this isn’t intended to target anyone in particular, but it’s intended to address the power dynamic that we have in the landlord-tenant relationship and also make sure that we’re protecting the stability of our housing stock in Santa Monica,” said Commissioner Caroline Torosis in a March 10 meeting.
Many nearby cities with rent control or rent stabilization policies—such as the cities of Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills—require an annual or new tenancy triggered registration of controlled units. Culver City currently goes beyond this and also requires an annual registration of market rate rentals.
“Because we are one of the first rent control jurisdictions, we see ourselves in Santa Monica as champions on this issue and trailblazing for the rest of the state and yet a lot of other jurisdictions with some form of rent control, rent stabilization already require a registration system,” said Torosis.
The other key change that Rent Control Commissioners are seeking to the City Charter is a revision of the rules surrounding owner occupancy of controlled units. Currently, owners who seek to evict a rent controlled tenant in order to occupy a unit must occupy that unit for at least one year prior to re-renting it. In order to deter landlords from using owner occupancy rules as a means to evict tenants and eventually increase rental rates, the Board is seeking to increase this requirement to three years.
The other two changes commissioners are seeking relate to the election process.
Commissioners would like to extend term limits from two terms to three terms in alignment with current City Council term limits. Commissioners would also like to drop the requirement to hold an election when there are only as many candidates as open Board positions. Commissioners see this as a cost saving measure that could potentially preserve upwards of $60,000 for the Board’s annual budget.
Prior to each of these suggestions being passed on to City Council for consideration on the November ballot, commissioners will hold a public hearing to solicit residents’ input.
“These items are all a big deal and we don’t undertake this very often. As a board the last time was in 2010,” said Commissioner Anastasia Foster.
The Board aims to submit recommendations to Council by June to ensure there is time to make any necessary tweaks in response to councilmember comments before Council’s early August deadline to submit local ballot measures to the County.