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Thursday October 27, 2011

Los Angeles City Council Raises Fees for Building Owners, Tenants

By Richie Duchon, City News Service

Tenants’ rights activists and residential building owners were both unsatisfied Tuesday with a decision by the City Council to raise fees that support the city’s housing department.

On an 11-2 vote, the council raised a fee that pays for the Los Angeles Housing Department to enforce the city’s rent stabilization ordinance. The fee will go up by about $6 – to $24.51 per year.

Another fee that supports the department’s regular code inspection of multi-family housing units will rise about $8 – to $43.33 per year.

If Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signs off on the fee increases, they would go into effect for 2012.

Housing Department officials said the fee increases are necessary because the department is failing to meet the council’s mandate to inspect properties once every three years.

Department officials said rising operational costs, coupled with staffing and budget cuts, mean that apartment units can only be inspected about once every four years.

“We question whether or not the Housing Department is justified in needing that extra money today,” said Richard Otterstrom, president-elect of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. “We haven’t actually seen the proof, and I don’t think the council has yet either.”

Low-income housing advocates were upset that the council declined to shift more of the fee burden to building owners.

Councilmen Richard Alarcon and Ed Reyes advocated for splitting the Systematic Code Enforcement Fee, or SCEP, equally between landlords and tenants. Tenants pay 100 percent of the SCEP fee which funds inspections, many of which are triggered by complaints from tenants.

“What it seeks to do is provide balance. It would be a 50-50 split of that charge and would be a little more fair,” Alarcon said.

The plan was defeated.

“I think this was a vote against equity,” said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival. “Here, in a situation where we have a nationwide movement calling for economic justice, you have this City Hall ringed with tents of people demanding action. They (the council) turn around on an issue that they have direct power over and vote against the 99 percenters, which are tenants.”

Gross said tenants agreed with the need for the fee increases, but said they should have been split equally.

Councilman Bernard Parks defended the vote, saying it has always been the case that tenants pay for inspections while landlords pay for necessary repairs.

“Those guidelines have been steadfast throughout the history,” he said.

Councilman Tony Cardenas, who chairs the Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee, promised to hold a hearing on a larger evaluation of the rent stabilization ordinance by the end of January.

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