Dear Editor – Protect Culver City Renters Proposes Strong Permanent Renter Protections

Dear Editor, 

Protect Culver City Renters is an ad hoc leaderless grassroots group advocating for renter protections in Culver City. We are very proud of our work last year helping get the rent freeze passed, and in lobbying the City Council for strong permanent measures.

On July 15 we sent the Council a memo with our recommendations for these permanent measures, written by the lawyers in our group in consultation with housing attorneys from Eviction Defense Network, Public Counsel, and Bet Tzedek Legal Services. It cites laws in other communities which can be used as models and court cases which support our requests. This memo is available in full on our social media pages. Here is an overview, with as much legal language removed as possible.

We propose that the permanent Rent Control and Tenant Protection Program be based on the temporary one, with five major changes.

First, instead of the 3% cap in the temporary ordinance, annual rent increases should be limited to keep up with inflation, with a maximum of 5%. This means simply setting the cap equal to the regional Consumer Price Index. Cities like Santa Monica and San Francisco use a fraction of CPI, so using straight CPI is a moderate option, similar to that recently taken by LA County. It requires no additional work by City staff or a Rent Control Board, allows landlords a fair rate of return because they still set initial rents, and protects renters in our in-demand area from being displaced by the higher increases permitted under AB1482.

Second, we support allowing landlords to pass-through the cost of enhancements to their property, with limitations. Only half of the costs can be passed-through, they are spread out over ten years, and they are capped at 5% of rent. Work to be passed-through must be approved by tenants and the City, and completed before tenants are charged. Pass-throughs are permitted only for enhancements, not regular maintenance, with some exceptions for “mom and pop” landlords.

Third, the City can specify that landlords cannot freely raise rent after a no-fault eviction. This discourages “renovictions,” bogus owner move-ins, harassment, and other abuses which are common in areas with a high-demand for rentals. This restriction is permitted in Costa-Hawkins and is implemented in West Hollywood and the unincorporated sections of LA County. If rent cannot be raised on a vacancy the landlord initiates, it removes the financial motivation to displace tenants who are paying below market.

Fourth, we share the Council’s concern for “mom and pop” landlords. We propose three accommodations: they should be allowed to pass-through some costs of the rental registry, they should only be required to pay half of the relocation fee for no-fault evictions if they move in an immediate family member, and they are allowed a three-month probationary period for tenants, during which the just-cause and no-fault rules do not apply. These rules address special challenges facing small landlords. In contrast, we oppose any “mom and pop” exception from annual rent limits because small landlords are fully able to set rents at market during vacancies and to take advantage of long-term growth in property values.

While small property owners are an important part of our community, landlord lobbying groups have often used them to argue for provisions which benefit large investors and corporations as much or more than “mom & pops.” The definition of “mom & pop” in the permanent Culver City law should consider both who the landlord is and how large their holdings are. We recommend following AB1482, which excludes Real Estate Investment Trusts, corporations, and LLCs partially owned by REITs or corporations. In the areas where we accept a special rule for “mom & pops,” the limit should be set at two units. Any larger landlord is in the real estate business, not just extending their personal homeownership.

Finally, the permanent ordinance should be written to incorporate two of Prop. 21’s potential changes to Costa-Hawkins. One applies the “mom & pop” definition just discussed to single-family homes. The other changes the definition of “new construction,” which is exempt from rent control, from “everything built after mid-1995” to “everything less than 15 years old.”

Throughout this process we have heard moving stories from tenants and small landlords. We at Protect Culver City Renters appreciate the support and feedback we have received from Council members and the community. We look forward to the City adopting policies that are thoughtful and fair for both renters and small property owners and can be a model to other cities.

Jeff Schwartz, Disa Lindgren, Noah Zatz, and Leah Pressman, for Protect Culver City Renters

The Actors' Gang

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