For the past 30 years in Los Angeles, ever since landlords lost the battle over rent control in 1979, most landlords have remained politically inactive. Whenever the Los Angeles City Council would vote on a housing matter, renter’s groups would often bring bus loads of people to council chambers and most times not many landlords showed up to speak up for our side of the issue. Now, we’re paying the price for being so inactive.
This is our effort to bring about some real change and relief for L.A. landlords and probably the most important issue in the last three years to members of our coalition. I have spent the better part of the last month trying to come up with a short and easy-to- understand list of reforms that I want to present to every member of the Los Angeles City Council. In L.A., there are 15 council members. If we can get 10 of them to agree with us on an issue, we can change any law, get rid of any law or create a new law. Here is a list of 14 reforms that I am going to present to every member of the LA City Council. As a coalition, we are working for fairness for landlords but at the same time, we cannot present any idea that will make us seem as if we are anti-tenant (which we are not). I don’t expect all of you to agree with everything but as along as most of you don’t object to any one suggestion, then I feel this is the list we should go forward with. We can also go back six months later and ask for more reforms. That is what the anti-landlord forces have been doing to us for the last 30 years.
I have no doubt that many of you probably want to add a few more suggestions. I think if we ask for too many changes, we might have a bigger battle to fight. I thought about the 14 worst things that the LAHD is doing to us and this is what I came up with. If the majority of you are fairly OK with these suggestions, then I’m going to start calling all the Council Members and do my very best to get a meeting with each one of them. I do plan to take about five coalition members with me to each meeting because I want to have witnesses as to what was said. By the way, we are now 163 members strong and growing. If you’d like to join us, please contact me at the phone number provided at the end of this article.
Here are my 14 suggestions for reform at the LAHD and modifying the most unfair laws that affect landlords in the City of Los Angeles.
1 – No REAP Rent Discounts
When a building is placed in REAP, renters should not be given any type of rent discount. If a renter decides to pay his/her rent to the LAHD, they may do so but no rent discount is to be offered by the LAHD in order to influence the tenant.
When a renter receives a fifty percent rent discount, it encourages that tenant to do what they can to keep the building in REAP. Imagine how exciting it is for low-income wage earners, especially those with several children to feed, to receive a fifty percent rent reduction. This inspires renters to tamper with smoke detectors and cause other damages to the property so that it becomes very difficult for landlord to get out of REAP. This destroys relationships between landlords and renters because it adds some intense greed to the equation.
An honest decent tenant in many cases can be corrupted when the LAHD offers them a fifty percent rent discount. Giving REAP rent discounts sets off a very bad domino effect between landlords and renters. In the end, nothing good comes out of it.
2 – All REAP hearings are to be held in a court of law and with a real judge hearing the case.
It is a denial of due process of law for an employee of the LAHD to put on a robe, pretend to be a judge and place a property in REAP. This process, as it is now, is a civil rights violation that must be put to an end immediately.
3 – Destructive Tenants Must Be Cited
When a tenant does damage to the inside of his/her apartment, by admitting to having done the damage to the apartment building or when there is proof that a tenant has created the damage, housing inspectors should cite the tenant. A copy of this report should be made available to the landlord within seven days should the landlord desire to go forward with an eviction of the destructive tenant.
4 – Controlling Tenant Retaliation
If a landlord can prove or if there is substantial evidence that a tenant caused intentional damage to the property as retaliation, then the LAHD case against the landlord is to be denied and a report must be made by the LAHD to document what the tenant did. If the tenant committed a code violation, the tenant should be fined by the proper city agency.
5 – No Citing Landlords for Minor Code Violations When an Apartment is Overcrowded
Since the City of Los Angeles does not allow landlords to evict for overcrowding in rental units where it is obvious that there are too many people living in an apartment, that apartment should be issued a wavier and the landlord should not be cited for minor code violations. The only code violation that a landlord may be cited for is something that is a serious health and safety issue, no cosmetic issues.
6 – Tenants Must Notify the Landlord First When a Repair is Needed
Tenants are to fill out a LAHD repair form and serve the landlord before they may file a complaint with the LAHD. Tenants must prove they gave the landlord the notice and the opportunity to make repairs to their rental unit. If they fail to do this, then the complaint will be closed.
7 – A New Department to Help Landlords Comply
There should be a department set up with inspectors who are landlord-friendly. After a landlord has been cited for code violations, the landlord should be able to call a phone number and talk with inspectors who have been trained to be landlord friendly, to work in a spirit of cooperation with landlords. These inspectors will come out to the property, to explain to the landlord what is needed to fix the code violations. These inspectors will not cite landlords and this service should be free considering how much we pay for property taxes. Please know that many inspectors seem to be carrying a grudge against all housing providers!
8 – No Outreach Contractors for Renters or Landlords
After an inspector has come out to a property and all the code violations have been fixed, there is no need for a second inspection by a renter’s activist group. Having a second inspection implies that the City of Los Angeles believes that their own housing inspectors lack the knowledge to make a final determination if the property is now up to code. If this is the case, then the City should fire these inspectors and hire inspectors with a background in construction or engineering. If the city hires outreach contractors for landlords, they really can’t do much other than advise landlords how to comply. They can’t fight against the City because they are being paid by the City. This is a waste of taxpayer’s money.
9 – Create an Oversight Committee Composed of Three Landlords and Three Renters
If any landlord or renter in the City of Los Angeles has a problem with a specific municipal code or a specific policy of the LAHD, they can speak before this committee to solve the problem and suggest changes. Then the committee can vote on the matter. If they end up in a deadlock and cannot agree, a retired judge would come in and cast the deciding vote.
10 – Capital Improvement Rent Increase is Raised From $55 to $200
Older buildings that are under rent control require more maintenance because of their age and in many cases, apartments are over-crowded. If the LAHD comes along and gives the owner a long list of repairs they want the owner to do and if the tenants in any apartment are paying less than seventy five percent of fair market value rent, the owner should be allowed to raise the rent $200 after the repairs have been made. To make it easier for the tenants, the rent could be raised one hundred dollars and then twelve months later, the rent would be raised the other one hundred dollars.
11– Tenants Should Be Allowed to Opt Out of SCEP
If a tenant feels that his/her landlord is doing a good job of maintaining the property, the tenant can fill out a form, give it to his/her landlord and then the landlord turns it in to the LAHD. So the next time the building is due for a SCEP inspection, those tenants who have opted out of SCEP, their apartments will not be inspected. If all the tenants in a building agree to opt out of SCEP, then the housing inspector will be limited to inspecting the outside of the building and the walkways within the building.
12 – Close Unfair Eviction Loopholes
When a landlord starts an eviction action against a tenant for non-payment of rent, the law unfairly allows tenants to file numerous appeals and motions to delay the court date. On top of that, there are predatory law firms that will represent the non-rent paying tenant and ask for a jury trial as a mean to extract $8,000 to $10,000 from a landlord in order to settle the case. Why should a landlord be forced to pay a tenant who is not paying their rent so much money just to get the tenant to move out? These predatory law firms are nothing more than gangsters. They are criminals using a loophole in the law to steal money from landlords. The law should allow only one delay for the eviction court trial and the case should be decided by a single judge.
13 – Tenant Move Out Fees Should Be Limited to $3,000
Because of unfair tenant move-out laws, a landlord may have to pay a renter up to $18,000 to move out. This is outrageous considering that many renters are living in rent controlled buildings and they are paying rent that is less than fifty-percent of fair
market value. The move-out fee should be based on the tenant’s actual costs, so if a tenant spends $1,500 on a mover and it took three days off from their job that is how much the tenant should be entitled to as a reimbursement not $18,000.
In special hardship cases, determined by a court, a landlord could be required to pay the first month’s rent of the tenant’s next apartment up to $1,500.
For those apartments regulated by rent control where the tenant is paying less than seventy five percent of market value rent. The move out fee should only be equal to four months’ rent with a ceiling of $3,000.00. I know that many of you don’t want to pay any money at all for tenant move-out fees, but that won’t fly politically – we just won’t get the votes to pass that. Council members are already aware that this whole idea of move-out fees is totally unfair!
It is insane and immoral for a tenant who was paying low rent for several years, to end up receiving two to five years’ rent returned to him/her as their move-out fee. If a tenant had such low rent for so several years, it was the tenant’s obligation to put some of the savings in the bank and maybe buy their own home. The way landlords are being forced to subsidize tenants in Los Angeles is evil and borders on socialism.
14 – Police Reports
There are criminals who bring crime and violence into an apartment building. This puts other tenants at risk. If the LAPD has to visit an apartment for any type of violation of the law, the landlord should be notified by the LAPD. A copy of the report should be made available to the landlord within fourteen days. Most landlords would not mind paying a small fee for a copy of that report.
Since more police officers are hurt or killed when responding to calls of domestic disturbances than any other type of request for police service; it would be a good thing for the police, the landlord and the other tenants in the building, for the landlord to be able to obtain a copy of the police report. This could help the landlord evict criminal tenants.
If you have more ideas to add, do bring them to our next meeting and we can all discuss them as a group. Please don’t send me long e-mails because I could end up with 100+ e-mails to read and sort out. It could make my brain explode. If you like my reform suggestions or don’t like them, come to our meetings Based on what I’ve learned over the last three years and the 1,000 + plus landlords who have read my articles and called me, I believe that most landlords would welcome these reforms that I’m suggesting. This is not going to be easy selling these ideas to the members of the L.A. City Council but it is something that must be done because for 30 years most L.A. landlords have been in a coma (or they say they are too busy) to be involved in the political process and that is why we have so many bad laws on the books that negatively impact our industry. We are coming out of the coma, we are rising up and the army is growing.
For those of you who appreciate our efforts, I welcome your support. It is your donations that keep us going forward.
Bill Hooey is with the Fair Housing, fighting for the rights of Los Angeles housing providers and may be reached at 323-397-8740.