City Of Santa Monica To Take A Look At Tenant Harassment

Friday, 11 Apr 2014, 9:34:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

An agenda item at Santa Monica City Council meeting on Tuesday took a first look at how alleged tenant harassment could be addressed by the City Council.
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An agenda item at Santa Monica City Council meeting on Tuesday took a first look at how alleged tenant harassment could be addressed by the City Council.

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

rental units.

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

tenant harassment.

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

affordability.”

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

Annual Report.

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