Renters and the City of Santa Monica certainly have an interesting
relationship. On the one hand, Santa Monica is quite reputable for its
favorable rent control policies. Not to mention, while the City does not
have political parties, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) is
the closest thing the City has to a party-style machine. Yet, at the
same time, Santa Monica also has a reputation for its stock of expensive
Apparently, another issue involving renters in Santa Monica is tenant
harassment. The City Council on Tuesday unanimously expressed its
desire to find out more about what kinds of tenant harassment exists
within Santa Monica.
Once the council has a grasp of what is going on, the City’s publicly
elected officers might come forward with policies providing greater
protections for tenants against alleged instances of harassment by his
or her landlord.
Council members Kevin McKeown and Gleam Davis brought an agenda item
to the dais at the April 8 council meeting to determine how, exactly,
alleged tenant harassment could be addressed on the dais.
The council member request was made in light of a Santa Monica Rent
Control Board meeting set for Thursday where the City Attorney’s office
was scheduled to make a presentation of possible tenant harassment cases
with time set aside for public testimony.
McKeown and Davis wanted to have the City Attorney’s office report
back to them and their colleagues of what came of the April 10
presentation and public testimony. It was anticipated by council members
that the public testimony would include specific narratives of alleged
What, exactly, constitutes “tenant harassment” was not discussed
during the agenda item, though McKeown said facing pressure to move out
due to increased rents or Ellis Act decisions certainly does not provide
ideal living conditions.
“We continue to lose affordable housing units and in many cases we
find that people who are in those units are being pressured to move
out,” McKeown told his colleagues. “I’m sure other council members get
the same heartbreaking phone calls I do from the people who have been
told by their landlords, for instance, ‘we’re going to Ellis the
building, you have four months to move out.’ There is a lot of pressure
on renters which has resulted in people losing their housing. And then
they can’t replace it because there is such a shortage of
McKeown’s observation of the shortage of affordable units was supported by an annual report published by the Rent Control Board.
“One challenge that we did not face over the past year was any
material reduction in the number of controlled units. That number
remained relatively constant at a little over 28,000,” the report
stated. “While 14 units were withdrawn from the rental market under the
Ellis Act, 30 previously withdrawn units were returned to the market.”
Davis echoed McKeown’s sentiments of alleged tenant harassment
incidents within Santa Monica, adding the current economic climate might
motivate landlords to seek higher-paying tenants.
“I think what’s happening … is with the rebounding of the economy,
there’s been a greater incentive for property owners to try and evict or
remove tenants who may be paying a lower rent,” Davis told her
colleagues. “We’ve seen an uptick in harassment.”
The Ellis Act plays a role in landlords circumventing rent control
policy. Adopted as State law in 1985, the Ellis Act allows landlords and
property owners to evict tenants from their respective properties if
they choose to take it off the rental market. The State law was used to
give property owners the opportunity to sell the building.
According to the San Francisco Tenants Union, The Ellis Act “is a
state law which says that landlords have the unconditional right to
evict tenants to ‘go out of business.’”
McKeown added he hopes the council could help “reduce harassment and increase housing security for Santa Monicans.”
The April 10 Rent Control Board meeting was held after this article
went to press. Accordingly, The Mirror will follow-up with this matter
in a timely manner and include coverage of the Rent Control Board’s 2013
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