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Capital & Main

Wednesday August 26, 2015

L.A. Landlords Seek to Put Tenants on the Hook for Water Bills

By Lovell Estell III
 

If L.A.'s landlords have their way, California's ongoing drought woes could result in many renters having to foot the bill for their water usage. Owners are nudging city leaders to study a survey released in July by the landlord group Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA).

The report claims that more than 86 percent of rental property owners in the city who pay for their tenants' water have experienced an increase or seen no change in water usage since Governor Jerry Brown ordered mandatory restrictions in April. Landlords assert that renters have no incentive to conserve water because they aren't paying for it, resulting in higher water costs.

Some tenant groups are crying foul, however, claiming that this proposal is little more than an attempt by landlords to use the drought to circumvent rent control laws. Los Angeles forbids owners of buildings constructed before 1979 to pass on water costs to tenants. Capital & Main made several attempts to contact AAGLA marketing director Bob Daignault for comment, but received no response by publication time.

Larry Gross, executive director of the tenants' rights organization Coalition for Economic Survival, is more than skeptical of the owners' claims.

"First off, this so-called survey is bogus," told Capital & Main. "It has no formal title and was not scientifically conducted. This is nothing more than a Trojan horse proposal to obtain higher rents." Gross cited current statistics on water usage in the state.

"According to the DWP [Los Angeles Department of Water and Power]," he said, "usage in the state has dropped by 13 percent over the last 12 months. Santa Monica reports that it had a 52 percent reduction. This would not be possible without the renters' participation in conserving water usage. If the owners are so concerned about water conservation, let's find out whether they have installed energy efficient washing machines or toilets in their units, or if the lawns on their properties are drought resistant."

But in a July statement, AAGLA executive director Jim Clarke insisted that the survey tells a different story.

"The truth is, a shockingly small number of tenants seem compelled to do their part to help the state [through] this difficult time. State and local leaders should be very concerned that the state's largest water district will fall short of mandated reductions," Clarke said. "There just is no way to enforce usage restrictions on the majority of the city's population."

Gross accused building owners of promoting a shared billing system called the Ratio Utility Billing System (RUBS), which he said would allow landlords to charge for water usage based on a vague formula that relies on the number of residents per unit, square footage or number of bedrooms.

"Landlords will keep pushing to get the law changed," says Gross. "But the Mayor and Councilman Bonin have stated that the only thing they support is the installation of sub-meters."

According to an April 22 report by radio station KPCC, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti indicated "that he would only approve of a plan where a tenant's bill was measured with an individual meter. Councilman Mike Bonin agreed, and said shared bills would not work."

Without the introduction of sub-meters, Gross continued, accurate gauging of tenant water usage is not possible. Yet sharing their installation costs with landlords could be expensive for renters — not to mention the administrative price tag that would go with individual tenant monitoring.


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