Culver City Observer -

By Stephen Hadland
Observer Publisher 

CULVER CITY FREEZE IS COMING

Moratorium Targets Apartment Owners, Not Condos or Rental Homes

 

Responding to a well-orchestrated campaign to “Protect Culver City Renters,’” the City Council voted 4-1 this week to move forward on a 12-month rent freeze.

At Monday night’s meeting that stretched till 1 a.m., the council rebuffed local apartment owners, directing staff to draft a rent-freeze ordinance with a 3% cap on rent increases. The Council is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance in August.

Councilman Daniel Lee -- who took part in a rally in support of renters outside City Hall before the meeting -- commented that “the characterization of this as rent control is wrong. What we’re discussing tonight is a rent freeze that is temporary... I am very much in favor of a rent freeze.” Lee indicated this would be a first step in a process of protecting local tenants.

He rejected the notion that only homeowners had the right to an opinion. “I don’t think we want to live in a cast system where only the voices of homeowners matter,” he added.

During the meeting, the council members heard from more than 100 speakers. It was noticed that many of the speakers were from outside the city. They included union representatives and rent control advocates.

Several speakers relayed horror stories of rent increases as high as 100%. Many long term residents were forced to move due to excessive rent increases; however individual landlords spoke about their treatment of long term renters and trying to keep increases reasonable.

Chris Estrada, Director of Community Organizing at the Community Center for Law and Action, disputed the claim that the rents were due to a lack of supply. He said it was “due to a lack of regulation.”

Judy Scott a 41-year resident of Culver City and a landlord in the city, spoke about the costs of upgrading and maintaining her units, the oldest of which was built in the 1920s. She recently invested $40,000 to reroof and paint all her units.

Vice Mayor Goran Eriksson cited the difference between the newer low-rise unit construction which charge higher rents and older apartments where the rents are lower.

The Vice Mayor commented that Santa Monica has had rent control for a long time and their prices are higher than Culver City and Hollywood has rent control and their prices are higher.

“I think the real question is what we can do to increase housing supply?” he added.

Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells who supported the freeze made an impassioned appeal, citing examples of rent increase where the landlord was gouging the renters with massive hikes. She also admonished the audience to keep their comments civil and acknowledged that there were differences of opinion and speakers needed to respect the rights of people they disagreed with.

During the meeting, the Council didn’t not discuss the Costa-Hawkins law, a California state law enacted in 1995 which already exempts many rental units. It places limits on municipal rent control ordinances. Costa–Hawkins preempts the field in two major ways. First, it prohibits cities from establishing rent control over single family dwellings and condominiums and newly constructed apartment units. All of which are exempt. It also prohibits "vacancy control", also called "strict" rent control. If an apartment is under "vacancy control", the city's ordinance works to deny or limit an owner's ability to increase its rent to new tenants. It works this way even in cases where the prior tenant voluntarily vacated the apartment or was evicted for a 'just cause' (such as failure to pay rent). In other words, Costa–Hawkins, by now prohibiting "vacancy control" in the above voluntary or 'just cause' circumstances, mandates that cities allow an apartment owner the right to rent the vacancy at any price.

Ultimately, the City Council instructed staff to return with a proposed 12-month moratorium (urgency) ordinance using the Los Angeles County moratorium ordinance as a model, and including the following: 3% rent increase cap, or other appropriate percentage amount that can be supported by the findings; rent cap to be retroactive to June 24, 2019, or other appropriate date that can be supported by the findings; just cause and no fault eviction provisions; process for landlords to petition for relief from moratorium in certain circumstances; and relocation assistance of $1,000 and three months’ rent, or other appropriate amount that can be supported by the findings.

The City Council further directed staff to research the possibility of a rental registry requirement, either included in the moratorium ordinance or reviewed during the moratorium period, as feasible; look for funds to retain an ombudsperson to assist with outreach to tenants and landlords regarding the City Council’s consideration of the moratorium ordinance and return to City Council with a proposed moratorium ordinance by August 12.

Originally, the council wanted to make the freeze retroactive to April 23 but the council was concerned that since it was not noticed to the public, backdating the freeze would violate the Brown Act.

 

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