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Santa Monica May Join Efforts to Curb Ellis Act Evictions

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

February 11, 2014 -- Santa Monica could add its voice to those calling for State legislators to make it harder for property owners to evict rent-control tenants.

The Santa Monica City Council Tuesday will consider a motion by Councilmember Kevin McKeown that would let the bayside city “opt in” to pending legislation proposed by San Francisco’s elected officials.

State Senator Mark Leno has begun preparing legislation that would revise the 1986 Ellis Act, a state law that affirmed property owners’ right to go out of the rental business, essentially taking rent-controlled units off the market.

“They are now moving closer to having actual state legislation introduced by Senator Mark Leno, but it is being written to apply ONLY to San Francisco,” McKeown said.

“I’m not sure they’ll come up with something effective that will pass in Sacramento, but because the Ellis Act has significantly eroded housing affordability here in Santa Monica, I want to give us the opportunity to ‘opt in’ to the as-yet unwritten bill, if we want to,” he said.

Since the Ellis Act was adopted, Santa Monica has seen a net loss of 1,964 rent-controlled units, according to the Rent Control Board’s 2012 annual report.

And, in recent years, there has been a relatively low number of units taken off the market through the Ellis Act, at least when compared to San Francisco.

In 2012, Santa Monica saw 42 rent-controlled units. However, “if you Ellis a property and you start renting it again,” State law requires that the units once under rent control go return to their controlled status, said Stephen Lewis, general counsel for the Rent Control Board.

That rule applies to new developments that replace old buildings with formerly rent-controlled units as well.

Since 2009, most rent controlled units that have been taken off the market have been replaced.

That’s not the case in San Francisco, which has seen a spike in the number of controlled units taken off the rental market largely due to a booming tech industry. And that could mean Santa Monica’s real estate market could follow suit.

“It’s been in the case in past years that when (Ellis evictions go) up in one jurisdiction, other jurisdictions aren’t far behind,” said Lewis, general counsel for the Rent Control Board.

Though, in recent years, Ellis Act evictions have not been a huge problem “numerically,” Lewis said, “for anyone who loses their home, it’s a big problem.”

The actual details of Leno’s proposed legislation have yet to coalesce, which is why McKeown wants the item to come back before the Council once the legislation is introduced.

“Once we know what Sen. Leno actually calls for, I’d bring the matter back for discussion before we put Santa Monica’s support behind anything specific,” he said.

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