Santa Monica Ordinance Protecting Tenants’ Rights Approved

Friday, 20 Dec 2013, 9:34:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

Though some may accuse Santa Monica of being pro-developer, what with several development agreements approved in the past year, there are still policies being enacted protecting the rights of renters.

Last week, council members enacted a new ordinance furthering such a reputation, as the elected panel authorized a regulation making it illegal for developers or landlords to make it difficult for a tenant to participate in the local politics and the public process.

Specifically, the City Council amended Santa Monica’s relocation ordinance to make it illegal for landlords to enter into agreements with their respective tenants requiring the latter to not participate in the public process or petition the government in exchange for payment of a relocation fee.

The new law would also void any such agreements already in place.

“It has been our policy to protect renters anyway we could,” Council member Kevin McKeown said.

All five council members present at the Dec. 10 meeting voted in favor of the ordinance; Mayor Pam O’Connor and Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day were both not present for this agenda item.

“The … ordinance prohibits landlords from making agreements with their tenants that prohibit or limit tenants from participating in the City’s public process. The primary purposes of this rule are to protect the City’s public process and to protect Santa Monica residents’ right to petition their government,” City staff stated.

Once the ordinance is in effect after second reading, the Rent Board and City Attorney’s office would work together in conducting outreach and education (Rent Board) and enforcing the new law (City Attorney).

City staff added there were two instances involving a Santa Monica landlord attempting to make or enforce a relocation agreement preventing a tenant from participating in the public process or petitioning the government.

The first occurrence involved a landlord with a proposed development project who had “obtained from tenants agreements which contained a ‘non-opposition’ term,” according to City Hall.

“The term prohibited tenants from speaking against the development project at any City meeting. After intervention by the City Attorney’s Office, the landlord agreed that the prohibition would not be enforced,” City staff stated.

A second instance occurred, according to City staff, when a landlord and company allegedly “circulated a similar agreement among its tenants.”

None of the agreements were signed, according to staff, as City Hall and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) had intervened in the matter.

McKeown, who administered a portion of the Dec. 10 meeting in place of the absent O’Connor and O’Day, read testimonies from emails received from two tenants who explained how either they or other tenants were forced to enter into an agreement forbidding them from participating in the public process.

One of the emails came from a tenant who resided at a Trammel Crow development at 301 Ocean, while another email was from an occupant at Village Trailer Park (VTP).

“We’ve had a history in this city where, unfortunately, developers have taken advantage of residents by twisting their arms, attempting to get them to sign agreements that keep them from representing themselves, as they have the right to do, in matters having to do with the development of the property of which they currently live,” McKeown said.

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