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CES In The News
Friday July 11, 2008
Council Missed the Message:
Tenant's Rights Under New Attack in LA
By Larry Gross

LOS ANGELES -- Renters must, once again, rally to protect their rights, which are under new attacks by a Los Angeles City Council motion. It appears some members of the LA City Council did not get the message from the June election voters and their overwhelming defeat of Proposition 98 that they support rent control and tenant's rights. The Prop 98 landslide vote was evident in every City Council district. Interestedly, the Council District with the third largest margin in defeating Prop 98, by 78% to 22%, was that of anti-rent control City Council Member Bernard Parks' Council District 8.

Yet, Parks continues his attack on tenants with his motion, along with Council Member Dennis Zine, designed to reduce the relocation assistance required by landlords to pay tenants when they are evicting for themselves or their child, parent, spouse, or a resident manager in order to move into a tenant's unit. The relocation amounts where significantly increased in April 2007 as a recognition of the hardship imposed on tenants who are displaced and the fact that the previous amounts were nowhere near the real costs required to relocate in today's rental market

On July 1, the City Council Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) and Housing, Community Economic & Development (HCED) Committees held a joint hearing on the Zine/ Parks motion to lower tenant relocation assistance payments.

The L.A. Housing Department (LAHD) presented a report that indicated "in 2005 and 2006, LA tenants faced an unprecedented number of no-fault evictions. The City permanently lost approximately 10,000 rent stabilized units over the two year period due to removals under the state Ellis Act, condo conversions, demolitions and owner occupancy and resident manager evictions. Evicted tenants faced an unforgiving rental market. Most areas had vacancy rates below 3% and suffered from some of the highest rents in the nation."

The report further stated: "After extensive public hearings, on April 11, 2007, the LA City Council adopted an ordinance increasing relocation payments to tenants subject to a no-fault eviction."

Under the guise of being concerned that small "Ma and Pa" landlords could not afford to pay the higher relocation amounts if they wanted or needed to move in a family-member, Councilmembers Zine and Parks introduced a motion requesting the relocation amounts be reduced to the prior levels.

The current tenant's relocation amounts are:

- $7,000 to tenants who have lived in their apartments less than three years or
- $15,300 for qualified tenants, those who are 62 or older, disabled or have minor children; and
- $9,300 to tenants who have lived in their apartments more than three years or
- $17,600 for qualified tenants, as above.

In response to the motion, LAHD prepared a report finding the following:

Allowing for reduced relocation payments in all good-faith evictions will create an unintended loophole in the City's Ellis requirements. Doing so will allow owners to avoid paying full relocation payments required under the Rent Stabilization Ordinance's (RSO) Ellis provisions by evicting tenants through its good-faith provisions. LAHD, therefore, proposes mitigating the cost of good-faith evictions for "mom and pop" landlords who wish to occupy a unit in their rental property. LAHD recommends amendment of the RSO to provide for reduced relocation payments in an eviction for owner or family occupancy in the following circumstances:

1. Neither the owner, nor the unit-occupying family member, owns any other RSO rental property; and
2. The owner is a natural person with at least 50% ownership in the property; and
3. The property consists of 4 or less units; and
4. The owner may qualify for payment of reduced relocation amounts only once every three years in an eviction for occupancy by an owner or family member in the subject property.

LAHD does not recommend approval of reduced relocation payments in evictions for resident manager occupancy. LAHD recommends the following amounts for when the owner qualifies for reduced relocation payments:

Eligible Tenant: $6,810
Qualified or Low Income Tenant: $10,900

Additionally, LAHD is recommending the following amendments to the RSO to prevent fraudulent good-faith evictions:

1. Require that the owner or the eligible family member move into the unit within three months of the existing tenant's vacating the unit and reside in the unit for at least 24 months;
2. Provide that failure to move into the unit within three months or to reside in the unit for at least one year constitutes evidence of bad faith;
3. Provide that if the owner fails to act in good faith, the City or the evicted tenant may institute a civil proceeding for injunctive relief and/or money damages of not less than three times actual damages, reasonable attorney's fees and costs and whatever other relief the court deems appropriate;
4. Provide that evictions for owner or family occupancy are only permitted for owners who are natural persons with 50% ownership in the property;
5. Prohibit evictions for owner, family or resident manager occupancy of any tenant who is at least 60 years old, or disabled, and who has resided in the subject unit for at least ten years;
6. Provide that the owner or family member shall occupy the unit as their primary place of residence;
7. Expressly prohibit an eviction for owner or family occupancy if there is already an available and vacant comparable unit in the building;
8. Require the owner to file a certificate of re-rental with LAHD prior to re- rental of the subject unit.

While tenant advocates believe LAHD did an admirable job in responding to Council directives and addressing a provision that has long been identified as a loophole resulted in many unjust evictions, they see inherent problems and conflicting policy issues in going this route.

If the intent is to provide a break to cash strapped "Ma and Pa" landlords, the proposals still leave the door open for abuse by wealthy landlords.

If low-income tenants living in units less than 3 years now have to prove their financial status to qualify for higher relocation benefits, than why not ask low-income landlords to prove their financial status to qualify for paying lower relocation monies?

In testifying before the Joint Committee, I raised a scenario we have come across.

A major high-priced NBA player purchased a 4-flex rental property. He picked the long-term, low-rent tenant to evict to supposedly move in his mother. Under the LAHD proposal this multi-millionaire NBA player could qualify for paying lower relocation amounts to the evicted tenant.

For tenants being evicted whether or not it is in good-faith does not change the fact that it is neither easier nor cheaper to find a new home.

What the City Council would be saying in adopting the recommendations is that it is more concerned about the plight of the low-income landlord than the plight of the low-income tenant. Plus, the Council has not defined what a "Ma and Pa" landlord is or truly limited the reduced relocation amounts to these landlords.

After hearing testimony from both tenants and landlords, the City Council Committee members decided to put this matter off for at least a month to obtain more information to determine what action they will take.

In the meantime, the Coalition for Economic Survival and other tenants' rights groups, are asking renters and supporters to contact Council Members to urge that they oppose any reduction in tenant relocation amounts. (Larry Gross is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)
Vol 6 Issue 56
Pub: July 11, 2008

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