City Hall wants to protect locals from losing their homes and staff have two months to come up with new solutions to the age-old problem of evictions.

At their last meeting, Council voted unanimously to instruct the City Attorney and City Manager to draft new legislation concerning additional residential renter protections and present them within 60 days. The request came from Councilmembers Caroline Torosis, Jesse Zwick and Mayor Gleam Davis, in an effort to protect the 70% of Santa Monicans who are renters amidst record evictions.

The proposed protections include, but are not limited to (a) limiting evictions for non-payment of rent less than the amount of one month’s rent (b) requiring relocation assistance for rent increases that exceed the lesser of the Consumer Price Index, plus 5%, or alternatively 10% (c) a requirement that any “buyout” agreement payment reached between landlord and tenant be at least the minimum relocation required under City law for a no fault eviction and (d) requiring that buyout agreements reached between landlord and tenant must be registered with the City of Santa Monica and the lack of a registration shall amount to an affirmative defense in any unlawful detainer proceeding.

“This is an issue that, as someone who came from the Rent Board, is very close to my heart and that I’ve been working on for quite some time, but I’m really horrified by the trends that we’ve been seeing both in the city and in the larger metro area,” Torosis said.

“When we enacted eviction protection, in May of 2020, only 270 unlawful detainers were filed in the LA Superior Court and in June of this year, 2023, 4,480 eviction cases were filed in the LA Superior Court, which is the highest monthly total in six years. And in Santa Monica, tenants who fell behind on rent are starting to have that rent due and owing and of course we’re in the middle of multiple different strikes where folks are unable to work in this community. Businesses are [still] recovering and the economy has not fully recovered. This, together with stagnant wages, calls for swift action,” said Torosis.

In addition, staff were asked to report back to Council within 120 days with recommendations for a tenant’s right to counsel ordinance including (a) resources needed and recommendations for a phased in implementation for a right to counsel ordinance for all Santa Monica renters in unlawful detainer proceedings and (b) an estimate of the funding required to provide flexible financial assistance to eligible renters facing rent increases or eviction for non-payment of rent in an effort to provide rapid problem-solving assistance to vulnerable renters to keep them housed.

The discussion and vote took place on Aug. 22, where a number of key issues made for an extremely packed meeting. Coincidentally, it also took place on the same day, albeit hours later, as the Downtown Santa Monica Inc Board held a meeting with business owners and retail representatives to talk about public safety, something Mayor Gleam Davis alluded to.

“Having attended a meeting this morning with our business community regarding crime and homelessness, we — almost on a daily basis — receive input regarding homelessness in this community. And it seems to me that not only the best, but certainly the most inexpensive way to address homelessness, is to not let it happen in the first place,” Davis said.

“There is a myth that everyone who is homeless became homeless because they’re mentally ill or have addiction problems. Every study that’s done shows that it’s absolutely not true. Many, many people lose their homes for simply economic reasons. And this is exactly the kind of measure that will prevent people from losing their housing and ending up on our streets.”

Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete spoke of how she still lives in rented accommodation, “I want to speak as, I think we can confirm the only renter up here on the dais, and … grew up in rent control here in Santa Monica and my father continues to be able to age in his apartment because of rent control.

“Something that we’re not mentioning as we talk often about affordable housing and the developments that we see going up that have only 10% of the units that are actually carved out and intended to be affordable … But also the idea that people just end up moving out of the City of Santa Monica [so] it’s lacking the diversity that we used to have when I grew up here in the 80s and 90s. What I see is gentrification,” Negrete said.

“Gentrification equals genocide,” she said. “It’s erasing cultures, it’s erasing a lot of our history of Santa Monica … It’s not so much about the fact that we struggle with the rent for a month, but it’s the idea that people can’t afford to live here. And we need to do something about it.”

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.