Santa Monica Lookout
|City “Hungry” to Challenge Abusive Landlords, Santa Monica Attorney Says|
By Jonathan Friedman
December 22, 2014 -- The City Council last Tuesday unanimously approved measures intended to strengthen Santa Monica’s Tenant Harassment Ordinance.
City officials said this was necessary to challenge a growing problem of landlords using improper means to get rid of rent-controlled tenants so they can be replaced by people paying much-higher market rates.
Among the many topics that came up during the discussion was the need for increased enforcement. Chief Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky said the City looks for ways to do this.
“We are always on the lookout and hungry for good cases, and by good I mean bad … abuses of the law that can be proven,” Radinsky said.
He added, “The biggest obstacle for enforcement is … evidence.
City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said she encourages tenants who believe they are being harassed to keep logs.
Renters have a new person they can speak with about possible harassment issues. Johanna Rodriguez began work last week as the City's community liaison. She is at City Hall on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“[Her duties include] investigating claims of tenant harassment and providing information to the public regarding the City’s landlord-tenant laws,” Moutrie wrote in a report to the council.
One of the changes to the harassment law the council approved Tuesday was language that specifies what it means for a landlord to improperly enter a unit.
The additional language states, “This includes entries for ‘inspections’ that are not related to necessary repairs or services; entries excessive in number; entries that improperly target certain tenants or are used to collect evidence against the occupant or otherwise beyond the scope of an otherwise lawful entry.”
Regarding why the additional language was needed, Moutrie wrote in her report to the council, “There have been increased reports of owners and managers making unlawful ‘inspections’ of units solely as a pretext to search for possible grounds for eviction.
She added there have also been "otherwise valid entries that were extended into improper areas for similar reasons, or simply to harass tenants.”
Other changes included altering the penalty for violating the law from $1,000 to an amount of up to $10,000 and the creation of a separate penalty for violations committed against elderly and disabled tenants, who Moutrie called “especially susceptible to being harassed.
Increased protections were also approved for tenants who receive buyout offers from landlords.
Under the new rules, which are expected be finalized through a second reading at the next meeting, buyout offers must be in writing and landlords need to give tenants a written disclosure of their rights before making them.
The offers must be filed with the Rent Control Board, and tenants receive a 30-day period to rescind agreements. Tenants "and others" can bring a civil action to challenge alleged legal violations.
“I think we have done some really good work tonight that will make a real difference in people’s lives, and I’m proud of the City Council,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said after the unanimous vote.
|copyrightCopyright 1999-2014 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.||Disclosures|