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December 14, 2012

L.A. City Council Approves Law That Mirrors and Ensures Enforcement of New State Law Prohibiting Rent Only Online Demands by Landlords

Victory Secured as Vote Tally Board in Background Posts Unanimous LA City Council Vote in Support of City Council Member Paul Krekorian's Ordinance to Prohibit Rent Payment Only Online Demands by Landlords (L to R: Bet Tzedek Legal Services Attorney Patricia Van Dyke, LA City Council Member Paul Krekorian, CES Executive Director Larry Gross & Woodlake Manor Apartments Tenants Association & CES Tenant Leader Dedon Kamathi - photo by Betsy Annas, CLA Office)

The L.A. City Council unanimously voted on December 14, 2012 in support of an ordinance introduced by Councilmember Paul Krekorian, in response to CES’ urging, to prohibit landlords from demanding that their tenants pay their rent only online.

Council Member Dennis Zine, who seconded motion for the ordinance, in referring to the work that CES had done on this issue said, “This is something that is good and positive for the people of the City of Los Angeles.”

The ordinance mirrors a state law (SB 1055) authored by California State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) that goes into effect on January 1, 2013. It will, additionally, enable the Los Angeles Housing Department to enforce the law locally.

The ordinance will require landlords and property managers in the City to provide alternative means for tenants to pay rent and associated fees when an internet or electronic rent payment system is used and to provide tenants with a remedy when their landlords and their agents fail to provide a non-internet and non-electronic means to pay rent.

It will be unlawful for any landlord or landlord's agent to demand or require an electronic funds transfer or online internet payment as the exclusive method of payment of rent, security deposits, surcharges or other housing service fees.

If a landlord illegally demands a tenant pay their rent only online, a tenant can withhold the rent until an alternative means of payment is provided and if the landlord attempts to evict the tenant may raise as an affirmative defense the failure of the landlord to comply with this law.

Larry Gross, Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) Executive Director testifying at the City Council hearing stated that, "many of these tenants are seniors, disabled and low income, and have lived in their homes for decades and, thus, are paying the lowest rent. In addition, many of these tenants do not own computers, are not computer literate, and are living on fixed incomes."

Gross charged that, "this policy is nothing more than a scheme to target long-term, low-rent tenants for eviction to obtain higher rents.”

Patsy Van Dyke, staff attorney for Bet Tzedek Legal Services said, “The City of LA is taking a leadership role on this.”

Woodlake Manor Apartments Tenants Association & CES Leader Dedon Kamathi Testifies in Support of Rent Online Only Law at LA City Council.

Woodlake Manor Apartments Tenants Association & CES Leader Dedon Kamathi, stated that, “We organized, we resisted, we held press conferences and thanks to Bet Tzedek and the Coalition for Economic Survival we moved this forward.”

In September 2011, tenants living in over 30 buildings owned by Jones and Jones Property Management, received notices informing them that a new rent online only policy would begin in December. Tenants from the Woodlake Manor Apartments Tenants Association, a Jones and Jones property in South Los Angeles where the rent online only policy was instituted, assisted by CES, was at the forefront of this fight.

In addition, Bet Tzedek Legal Services had filed a law suit against Jones and Jones on behalf of the tenants.

It was in response to CES’ campaign against the online rent policy that Senator Lieu introduced SB 1055. The bill is the only landlord/tenant bill that Sacramento legislative veterans can remember that passed every committee and floor vote of the California Legislature without a single vote against it. Even the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles and California Apartment Association supported the law.

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