This article was posted on Friday, May 01, 2020

The below is an open letter to Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Honorable Autumn Burke.

Dear Friends:

I’m certain this letter will receive no response.  Maybe a clerk will read the note and possibly place it on an office meeting agenda.

Several years ago, there were devastating wildfires in Northern California.  There were fatalities, injuries and property loss – reprehensible.  Then, some terrible people engaged in “price gouging” – indefensible.  I imagined that they elevated the prices of motel and hotel rooms, increased prices of supplies and material at hardware stores and lumber yards.  So, legislation was adopted.  No law is perfect.

HOWEVER, the Emergency Declaration protocol should be adopted and approved – we need to make some modest modifications. No one challenges the Governor’s authority to declare an emergency – even a Mayor, Country Supervisor or others.  There is lack of DUE PROCESS.

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Going Overboard?

There may be a wildfire in Malibu Hills and yet, the County Supervisors adopted an Emergency Declaration for 14 months extending to the entire County of Los Angeles.  All 88 cities and the unincorporated areas!  You would agree that Malibu residents would not be looking for comparable accommodations in apartments or motels in Bellflower, San Pedro, Carson, Hawthorne or Long Beach, right?  

Penal Code Section 396 

Penal Code Section 396 provides the penalties and sanctions.  This section also provides that every 30 days the Emergency Declaration is to be reviewed.  However, as a practical matter, it is never set on the agenda or set for an evidentiary review.  The Woolsey and Malibu fires were investigated by the Los Angeles County Counsel.  The report shows no evidence of any type of price gouging or rent gouging.  Absolutely no evidence!

There should have been a hearing set within 30 days of the initial Emergency Declaration.  This never happened.  So, you have a taking of property by putting an artificial “cap” of 10%, but you don’t allow for fair hearings to determine whether the emergency cap arrangement is still necessary, viable, appropriate and effective?  This is terribly wrong.

Governor’s Statement Questioned

People relied in good faith on the Governor’s statement that if you build an apartment complex, it would be exempt from rent control for 15 years.  If you own an apartment building and a unit becomes vacant, it would be re-rented at prevailing market rents.  But no … the Emergency Declaration caps the rate at 10%.  This is wrong and nothing short of a betrayal.

San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, West Hollywood and Santa Monica have oppressive and restrictive rent controls.  Let’s imagine a two-bedroom unit on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica becomes vacant.  It was occupied by a tenant for 30 years and she paid $800 per month.  The unit has two bedrooms, a fireplace, beamed ceilings, hardwood floors and a commanding view of the Pacific Ocean.  Yes … under rent control she only paid $800 per month.

Now, it’s vacant and the owner spends considerable sums of money enhancing the unit but under the Emergency protocol, the rent can only be increased by no more than 10%?  This is wrong.  Very wrong!  Let’s work together to fix this.

The below is an open Letter to City Council Members and Mayor Garcetti:

Dear Friends:

Responsible landlords would always make an appropriate arrangement to protect and preserve good tenants who encountered a hardship problem associated with the coronavirus crisis.  However, your moratorium is short-sighted. Evictions are not the answer.  Compassion and a thoughtful “compromise” is the solution.  

Effective March 15, 2020, when the Governor announced the emergency declaration, any eviction notifications thereafter should be immediately referred to an arbitration or mediation panel, underwritten by the City.  Discover whether the evidence suggests that the failure to pay the rent arose from episodes or incidents associated with this terrible virus.  Protect the tenant during the period of time necessary for them to regroup and handle the financial crisis.  Yes, the City should issue some vouchers to handle the rent – protect the tenant in place.

Now, those tenants engaged in criminal enterprises, nuisance or other unlawful misconduct would also go to the arbitration/mediation panel handled by the City.  But, you’re certainly not going to do an eviction moratorium if you discover that a group of tenants engaged in some horrific criminal activity; prostitution, drug dealing or other items.  We need to be precise and fair.

Unjust Enrichment:  So, you don’t want to remove the tenant who’s engaged in unlawful or illegal activity, but at the same time, the City wants to demand and insist that the landlord continues to pay for DWP, Southern California Gas, registration fees with LAHD, business license taxes, property taxes, parcel taxes and bonds.  In these buildings, the cost of water and sewage is enormous.  You’re certainly well aware that the cost of hauling trash in Los Angeles City has increased by 400% or more.  Why should the landlord be the only one to be invited to take a … haircut?

Let’s convene a summit.  Let’s bring the tenant activists, presiding Judge of the eviction court, some prominent eviction and defense attorneys and people from the housing community.  Maybe some people from LAHD.  We need to be fair.  No family who has been injured as a result of the coronavirus should be victimized.  You’re certainly aware that an eviction judge has discretion under our law, regardless of the evidence to reinstate a tenant in the interests of justice.

I would imagine that, under certain circumstances, instead of serving a 3-Day notice for failure to pay rent, if the evidence suggests it’s related to the coronavirus crisis – perhaps the notice should be 30 days or 45 days or even 60 days.  The moratorium is bad.  It’s not well conceived and it is an over-reaction.

This is an emergency.  Let’s do a summit.        Attorney Michael Millman


Michael Millman is an Attorney and a Mar Vista activist and can be reached at (310) 477-1201.