Tuesday, July 23, 2024

L.A. City Council backs minimum threshold for evicting tenants behind on rent

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The Los Angeles City Council made some minor adjustments to elements of its tenant protection package Friday, after a lengthy meeting during which council members spent more than two hours meeting privately with the city’s lawyers.

The broader tenant protection package was unanimously approved last week. But its various prongs were in different stages of the legislation process, with some elements — such as new “just cause” eviction protections and a timeline for repaying back rent — ready to be signed into law after last week’s vote. Two other provisions still required ordinances to be drafted and approved this week.

A proposal that establishes a minimum threshold for eviction for tenants who fall behind on rent was provisionally approved Friday by the council, while a separate item that would require landlords to pay relocation fees in some situations involving large rent increases was tabled until next week.

Councilmember Nithya Raman, who chairs the council’s housing committee and championed the legislation package, said she was confident the eviction threshold ordinance would pass a second reading and optimistic that the relocation assistance provision would also be approved next week.

“I’m grateful that my colleagues saw this as a moment for bold action,” Raman said.

The eviction threshold proposal was approved on a 9-2 vote, with Councilmembers Traci Park and John Lee voting no. Under the proposal, a tenant would have to owe an amount exceeding one month’s fair market rent before they could be evicted.

Because the vote was not unanimous, that ordinance will have to be heard again for a second vote next week before it can be signed into law.

The ordinance was amended to include a severability clause, which states that if one provision of the law is struck down in court, the rest can stand. It was also amended to instruct the city’s housing department to report back on a number of elements, including how the city’s new renter protections might affect housing production.

A separate provision that would require landlords to pay relocation fees if rent is increased by more than 10%, or 5% plus inflation, was not voted on because an amendment approved during the meeting will require more time to draft. It is expected to come back before the council Tuesday.

The amendment will clarify the displacement provision to ensure it is triggered only by changes to a unit’s contracted monthly rent, rather than any promotional rents or discounts.

This proposal would apply to only a relatively narrow sliver of the city’s rental stock, since the city’s rent stabilization ordinance and statewide rent cap provisions already prohibit such rent increases for most units. Approximately 84,000 units built since 2008 would be covered under the proposed law, according to the city’s housing department.

Two other prongs of the package were signed into law by Mayor Karen Bass this week and went into effect Friday.

The “just cause” eviction protections bar landlords from evicting tenants in any rental property, including single-family homes, unless there is unpaid rent, documented lease violations, owner move-ins or other specific reasons.

Some renters, including those in rent-stabilized units, already had those protections, but making them universal dramatically expanded the number of tenants covered.

Another provision that went into effect Friday blocks evictions until February 2024 for tenants who have unauthorized pets or who added residents who aren’t listed on leases. It also created a new timeline for paying back rent owed from the COVID-19 emergency period.

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The council had been under massive pressure to approve substantial new tenant protections by the end of the month, when the city’s emergency order is set to expire.

The county also had its own rules in place set to expire at the end of the month. Those rules bar landlords from evicting low-income tenants who say they were financially harmed by COVID-19 and can’t pay rent.

That deadline pressure was lessened slightly this week, when county leaders voted unexpectedly Tuesday to extend their COVID-19 eviction rules through the end of March.

Tenants and tenant advocates spoke in favor of the provisions during Friday’s meeting, while a number of small landlords and landlord groups spoke out against them.

Before her “no” vote on the eviction threshold provision, Park said that she while agreed no tenant should be evicted for being a “a few dollars short on their rent” or experiencing “some kind of life emergency,” she thought it was an unbalanced policy that didn’t adequately address the needs of small landlords.

Park also had broader concerns, saying the proposal “raises many unanswered questions, ranging from the legality of these ordinances to their implementation and their overall impact on affordability.”

The California Apartment Assn. has already threatened litigation on both of the remaining proposals.

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