LA City Council adopts new renter protections expected to kick in very soon

Renters in Los Angeles breathed a sigh of relief Friday, Jan. 20, after the L.A. City Council voted unanimously to adopt new, permanent tenant protections that will take hold before the city’s COVID-19-related eviction moratorium expires at the end of the month.

The new renter protections should take effect soon after Mayor Karen Bass signs off on them, which is expected to happen before Feb. 1 when COVID-related renter protections end.

The council decision offers new protections to hundreds of thousands of Angelenos. And the timing is critical: With the eviction moratorium set to end in less than two weeks, tenant rights advocates had sounded the alarm that lifting the moratorium without new renter protections in place could result in a new wave of homelessness.

“Housing stability is vital to combat so many of the challenges L.A. is facing right now: displacement, gentrification, segregation, homelessness, population loss, and more,” Councilmember Nithya Raman, who took the lead in pushing for the new protections, said in a statement.

“Today’s advancements in tenant protections, the most significant since the institution of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, are a major step toward keeping hundreds of thousands of tenants across the city housed,” she added.

The city council included an urgency clause as part of its vote Friday. Since it passed unanimously, the new tenant protections can go into effect not long after Bass agrees to them.

After roughly two hours of public comment – most from tenants demanding protections – the council voted to expand “just cause” protection to more renters, provide relocation help for qualifying tenants who would otherwise face steep rent hikes, and prohibit landlords from evicting tenants who owe less than one month’s market-rate rent.

The most controversial item was the proposed rule that tenants could only be evicted for just cause – such as for failing to pay rent, or violating other terms of their lease – and whether it should apply immediately for renters who don’t already have just cause protections. Tenants in rent-stabilized units, or who are covered under a state law already, are protected.

Through its action Friday, the council extended just cause protections to all other tenants, in roughly 396,000 units, including renters in single-family homes.

To address concerns that some councilmembers had about not discouraging landlords who wish to only rent out their places short-term, the just cause protection won’t kick in until the end of a renter’s first lease or after six months, whichever comes first.

The council voted 11-1, with Councilmember Monica Rodriguez dissenting on the just cause rule. But when it came time to vote for the full package, the council voted 12-0, with Council President Paul Krekorian and Councilmember Curren Price recusing themselves because they own rental properties.

Another tenant protection will require landlords to pay relocation assistance to renters who have to move because their rent is raised more than 10%, or by the Consumer Price Index plus 5%. The intent is to prevent rent gouging. Landlords would have to pay the tenant three times the fair market rent for relocation assistance, plus $1,411 in moving costs.

According to the city’s housing department, fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is $1,747 and $2,222 for a two-bedroom. The relocation assistance requirement will apply to an additional 84,000 rental units in L.A. that were built after 2008.

The third protection lets tenants who are behind on rent remain in their apartments for a month, unless they owe more than one month’s worth of fair market rent.

Councilmembers had faced a looming deadline to pass the tenant protections.

The council recently voted to end L.A.’s COVID-19 local state of emergency after Jan. 31, which also means ending the city’s pandemic-era eviction moratorium that protected renters.

During public comments Friday, a few speakers in the packed council chamber urged the council to adopt permanent tenant protections before the moratorium lifts, saying not doing so would be “inhumane.”

Landlords, particularly so-called “mom-and-pop” rental property owners, meanwhile said the moratorium had gone far too long, and that they shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of supporting tenants during the pandemic.

“When are the shackles coming off?” one caller who spoke during public comments asked the council.

The eviction moratorium was put in place in the early days of the pandemic to prevent renters from ending up homeless after losing wages or suffering other hardships. But landlords say many renters have taken advantage of the moratorium by claiming they can’t afford to pay rent while going on vacation, buying cars or making other lavish purchases.

With the eviction moratorium going away, landlords will again be able to evict tenants for unpaid rent starting Feb. 1.

But tenants will have until Aug. 1 to pay off rent debts incurred between March 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. And they’ll have an additional year, until Feb. 1, 2024, to pay rent that they failed to pay between Oct. 1, 2021, and Feb. 1, 2023.

Landlords can also resume rent hikes on rent-stabilized housing units – which make up three-quarters of apartment units in L.A. – starting in February 2024.

Councilmembers on Friday instructed city staff to return to the council within 30 days with a report on the number of renters who still owe back rent, the amount owed and their household income; a report on potential funding available at the federal, state or local government level to help renters and mom-and-pop landlords struggling financially; and a report with recommendations on establishing a new relief assistance program for small landlords.

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Estuardo Mazariegos, co-director of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment’s L.A. office, said after Friday’s council vote that he was pleased overall that permanent tenant protections were approved before the moratorium ends. But, he expressed disappointment that just cause protection won’t kick in for up to six months for some tenants and noted that advocates are still calling for a more comprehensive tenant bill of rights.

“I am happy with the outcome (today) because it’s taken a lot of work to get to even this point,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of work ahead of us.

“At the end of the day, I’m an organizer,” he continued. “I’m going to keep talking to people in the community and bringing people to City Hall.”

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