January 23, 2023 Bianca Barragán, Southern California
With a Jan. 31 deadline looming, the Los Angeles City Council on Friday approved significant renter protections including one instituting universal just-cause eviction protections, making the city’s apartment stock the second-largest collection of regulated housing in the country.
Though the momentum for these protections has picked up over the last year, it kicked into overdrive as the deadline drew closer — a period that has coincided with five new council members beginning their terms, and the fallout of a scandal involving leaked audio of council members using racist language.
Los Angeles City Council has voted to give renters a suite of eviction protections that will replace the pandemic-related ones set to expire at the end of this month.
The hearings over the last week have suggested that more than ever, tenants have a growing group of allies on the council, and that this group is ready to act.
Though two of the recommended protections have yet to be officially voted on, one dramatic protection for tenants has been approved. The expansion of just-cause protections for renters means there are now only about 14 reasons for which a tenant may be evicted. As implied by the term “universal,” these rules will apply to all rental units in the city of Los Angeles, including single-family homes and newly built apartments. Because it was passed with an urgency clause, the new rule goes into effect immediately.
These protections are similar to those already covering the city’s estimated 650,000 rent-stabilized units, but the city’s housing department estimates that an additional 400,000 will be affected by these new rules. At more than 1 million units, the city will have the biggest inventory of regulated housing in the country, with the exception of New York City, a housing department official told the council on Friday.
For many landlords, the relief of the eviction moratorium coming to an end has been tempered by the arrival of new restrictions on how they can do their business.
“We’re all excited about it,” CGI+ Real Estate Strategies Chief Operating Officer Aaron Cohen said, referring to the end of the eviction moratorium at the end of January.
But these new renter protections that attempt to recreate the effects of the eviction moratorium will cause landlords to shoulder a burden that they shouldn’t have to, Cohen said.
“It was never the right solution to me, to say ‘Let’s force landlords to take the burden of this,’” Cohen said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. Why do landlords arbitrarily have to take the burden of this?”
Cohen noted that even when the eviction moratorium expires, that only means renters can be evicted for nonpayment of their current rent, not for any rent that they owe from the period from 2020 to the end of the moratorium. Tenants have up to a year to repay that.
“We feel we have no representation with this city council,” landlord Joyce Mitchell said on a call into the council’s housing and homelessness committee meeting on Wednesday. She says Black and brown small property owners — a group in which she included herself — have their retirements invested in their properties and stand to lose everything with the combination of the eviction moratorium and new regulations.
“I feel that it’s time to stop holding small apartment owners responsible for what city and county elected officials have failed to do with respect to the homeless crisis in this city,” Mitchell said. “We will be the next wave of homelessness in this city if you continue to treat us this way.”
Tenant advocates and renters have pointed to research that shows that eviction protections helped keep people housed during the critical time of the pandemic. In a city with an overwhelming population of people experiencing homelessness, these advocates argue that keeping renters in their housing isn’t something that should end with the emergency period of the pandemic.
In a tweet on Friday, Council Member Nithya Raman, whose district stretches from Silverlake and Los Feliz to Encino, called the new protections “the most significant since the institution of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance,” which went into effect in 1979.
The two remaining elements of the renter safety net to be finalized are expected to come before the council before the end of this week. One would require that landlords pay a standard relocation assistance for tenants who move out because they have received a rent increase of 10% or more; the other would set a threshold of time that would need to elapse before tenants could be evicted for nonpayment.
“We absolutely need to get the two remaining permanent protections in place so that we can have a really comprehensive safety net of protections and make sure that we do not see an increase in evictions and homelessness,” Inner City Law Center Public Policy Advocate Sasha Harnden said.
Those two elements of the safety net are the only two that really address rent and renters moving forward, Harnden said. With their implementation, “we will have the strongest protections for non-payment evictions in the county of Los Angeles, maybe in the entire nation,” he said.
Harden said the council, with its five new members, has shown “true leadership and real engagement with the issues in a way that we haven’t seen for a long time.”
Existing members of the council and some of the new members have “really step[ped] up to recognize that 60% of this city is made up of renters, and that those renters power the city of Los Angeles,” Harden said. “Protecting them stabilizes our communities and makes us all better off.”
Though Cohen said he doesn’t anticipate these new regulations will impact his business too severely, he says that they do add more costs of doing business in the city — something that is counterproductive in a city where more housing that people can afford is badly needed.
“I would strongly urge city officials, instead of going the route of damaging the landlord, to actually go the route of figuring out ways that we could, you know, have organizations and charities pay for their rent to catch people up so everybody is made whole,” Cohen said, instead of “basically forcing the hand of a landlord to take the loss.”