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LA County moving toward permanent rent control

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The amount landlords could charge every year would change—but would never exceed 8 percent

Apartments
A number of the county’s proposed rules are similar to those in effect in the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood.
Photo by Liz Kuball

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesdsay in favor of making its temporary rent control ordinance permanent, a 5-0 decision that was met with multiple, hardy rounds of applause and “woos” from the public.

The measure would limit steep increases, putting a ceiling on how much rent in buildings that opened prior to 1995 (except single-family homes) could be raised each year in unincorporated neighborhoods. The amount would change from year to year, based on the local Consumer Price Index but could not exceed 8 percent.

More than 160 people turned out to weigh in on the draft measure, with multiple speakers sharing personal stories about facing steep rent hikes.

East Los Angeles resident Rosio Flores told the board that she and her husband began to question whether they and their son would become homeless after their rent was increased last year to $2,100—from $900.

“We started started using our savings to pay that enormous difference,” she said. “We were already seriously thinking of selling our car to be able to pay a few more months of rent while we start looking for another place. Our concern began to grow every day.”

Under a temporary ordinance that’s in effect now and set to expire in December, landlords are barred from hiking rents more than 3 percent.

Precise language for the permanent measure will now be drafted and return for a final vote on November 16.

“The stories that you heard today are real,” said supervisor Hilda Solis. In the communities that she represents, including City Terrace and East LA, she said entire households are working minimum wage jobs “and they’re still not able to pay the rent.”

Under the proposal, evictions without “just cause” would also continue to be prohibited in all rentals, meaning that, for the most part, tenants could not be evicted unless they broke the terms of their lease or failed to pay their rent.

The permanent ordinance would expand on protections offered by the temporary version, including requiring landlords to provide relocation assistance when tenants take buy-outs (also known as “cash for keys”) or are evicted without fault.

The regulations would apply to rental units in unincorporated areas of the county, such as East LA, Altadena, Montrose, and Universal City. The permanent rules would protect 100,000 renters across the more than 120 unincorporated communities in LA County, according to Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

A number of the proposed rules are similar to those in effect in the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood.

“I believe very deeply in doing everything you can to help people just have a chance,” Kuehl said.

Joseph Nicchitta, director of the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs told the board that the interim ordinance in place now has helped some renters avoid displacement.

“We [have] seen cases where the landlords had raised the rent 25 percent, 40 percent and higher in violation of the ordinance,” he said. In one case, Nicchitta said, a landlord increased rent from $665 to $1,500 month—a 125 percent hike.

“The tenant had overpaid about $6,500 before engaging my department,” he said. “Because of the interim ordinance, the landlord has since rescinded the rent increase and is repaying all of the overage to the tenant.”

Nicchitta said his department had also received 21 requests from landlords to increase rents above the 3 percent cap “to ensure a fair and reasonable return on their investment.”

The California Apartment Association has argued that small landlords need flexibility to raise rents to cover the costs associated with maintaining and improving their properties. Fred Sutton, who handles public affairs for the association, told the board that in the long run, “you will make things more expensive.”

The board’s vote came down on the same day that the state Senate passed a measure to enact rent control across California. But the county’s proposed cap would likely be stronger than the state’s, which would cap rents at 5 percent—plus local inflation. And Kuehl said the passage of the state bill is not guaranteed.

In a statement, Yesenia Miranda Meza, a tenant leader with Pomona United for Stable Housing, said Tuesday’s vote was a testament to the work of residents and activists, many of whom organized with the help of such groups as the Los Angeles Tenants Union and Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action.

“Today is a victory,” Meza said. “Just two years ago we were fighting what felt like an impossible battle, but today, there is nothing but possibility.”

Supervisors are also set to vote today on a proposal to set up the first phase of an “eviction defense and prevention program” that would include “full-scope legal representation for eligible tenants.” It would establish “eviction assistance centers” in courthouses and provide workshops and events to help educate tenants on their rights and the resources available to them.

To find out if an apartment is in unincorporated LA County, select the “district map look up by address” option from the dropdown menu on the county’s precinct mapping site.