This article was posted on Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014

Earthquake Liability

Dear AOA:

While it is a good idea to report court cases affecting landlords, the AOA article referencing the Paso Robles “earthquake liability” case is potentially misleading.  The case did not say landlords are liable just because there is an earthquake.  The Paso Robles case involved a landlord who “knew” the commercial (not residential) building was unsafe and “knew” the City had apparently passed retrofit requirements, but the landlord negligently failed to get the work done in time.

Lawsuits are a part of being a landlord.  Instead of complaining about getting “overrun” with lawyers representing tenants, attention should be directed toward acting carefully and insuring adequately with liability insurance.  As the article mentions, if one hires an engineer to inspect all buildings, it can actually increase the risk of being successfully sued.  This is because the result supplies the tenant with proof the landlord “knew” of any shortcomings and thereafter negligently failed to timely get the work done.  Be careful not to say, “I intentionally refused to do the work” because intentional acts are possibly not covered under liability insurance.  Always encourage a settlement if it is covered by insurance.

The correct part of the article makes it clear that IF a city or county orders retrofitting and HAS given actual notice to retrofit, one should do the retrofit.  Acting reasonably, acting honorably and insuring adequately is always the best course for any business endeavor.  Holding rental property in an LLC or LLP or Corporation is also usually wise.

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                                                                                                       Gordon S. Churchill

Rent Control in Culver City?

Dear AOA:

I am writing in response to the article you (re)published in the AOA magazine, regarding the possibility of rent control being enacted in Culver City.  I am the owner/operator of a small multi-family property in the west end (90066 zip) of Culver City. I am also a member of your association and I am currently the Chair of the Culver City Landlord/Tenant Mediation Board – (CCLTMB). I note that for information value only and am not writing on behalf of the board. I am writing as a concerned resident (for 36 years) and business owner (for 14 years) in Culver City

Regarding the CCLTMB board, not only is it not made up almost exclusively of Realtors and lawyers, but by statute the board is comprised of nine members and three alternates: three landlord members (and one landlord alternate), three tenant members (and one tenant alternate) and three at-large members (and one alternate who must be neither an owner or tenant, but must be a resident of Culver City).  Every mediation conducted by the board consists of a panel of one landlord, one tenant and one at-large member who have successfully completed the Southern California Bar Assn. 30-hour mediation training.  Although this panel is intended to represent differing viewpoints and experience, the mediation process itself expressly forbids any mediator from taking a position, offering a solution, or participating in any way except to encourage and moderate communication, and compromise between the two involved parties. Mediators do not render judgments, mediators do not advocate for either side, mediators function solely as impartial (and confidential) facilitators in rental increase disputes whose sole purpose is to reach an acceptable agreement between both sides.

It is also alleged in the article that the voting distribution in Culver City is heavily dominated by owners/landlords. A simple view of the city website shows that to be completely untrue. All business license holders in Culver City are available to be examined and are listed by category. Under rental property there is a list of every business license holder. The list contains roughly 400 names. The population of Culver City is approximately 40,000. That makes rental property ownership just about 1% of general population, and even if you consider duplexes, triplexes and 4-plexes (and include in the calculation the fact that not all rental property owners are actually Culver City residents) the distribution would not come to more than 5%. (some dominance!). The fact of the matter is Culver City is a bedroom community. 55% of the residents are occupants of single-family homes. The 45% of the community that comprise renters overwhelmingly live in small, owner occupied properties like mine. (I have 6 units and occupy one).

It is also alleged in the article, that “gentrification” is the culprit which is driving up rents in Culver City. Well, according to the dictionary, the definition of gentrification is: “the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper or middle income families, or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.”

Culver City is and always has been a very homogenous community. There simply are no “deteriorated urban neighborhoods” though there may be individual properties dispersed throughout all areas of town in need of rehabbing and/or updating. And the suggestion that increased rents and property values is also due to an influx of affluent film professionals employed by Sony Studios is equally ludicrous. That location has been a movie studio (MGM, then Warner Brothers, now Sony) on roughly the same size lot since the early 1930’s!

And one last observation about the voting demographics in Culver City – renters, as a rule, don’t vote! Particularly in local elections.  Only about 15% of registered voters voted in our recent city council election last month and the overwhelming majority was single-family homeowners. This can be partially explained by the fact that the average tenancy duration in California is three to five years. Most renters do not feel connected to Culver City as a municipal entity; to them it is simply a part of greater Los Angeles. There are many residents on my street but due to the fact that our mail is routed through L.A. 90066 post office, they simply don’t know they live in Culver City. There are also a fair percentage of renters throughout the city who are not U.S. citizens. They quite obviously can’t vote.

I feel genuine sympathy for residents who through no fault of their own find themselves priced out of their homes (usually after a sale due to death or retirement of long time owners). But they are a very distinct minority of renters in Culver City. Rent control in Culver City would be a solution to a problem that simply does not exist.

Lastly, I’d like to suggest that the author of the article you re-published from the L.A. Weekly, would do well to research the veracity and accuracy of the information he is conveying and perhaps further acquaint himself with the concept of “fact-checking.” (unless of course, he’s auditioning for a job at Fox News!) and to familiarize himself with the old adage “there are two sides to every story.”    Sincerely,   Judy Scott





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