Below is an open letter to the Los Angeles City Council written by Bill Hooey of the Fair Housing Coalition, fighting for the rights of Los Angeles housing providers.
Dear Council Members:
Our City of Los Angeles is suffering and things are getting worse. The malady was caused by previous City Councils creating laws that are driving jobs out of L.A. Our present City Council can remedy that situation.
Employers are leaving the City of Los Angeles because of our extremely unfriendly local business climate. Two things that are truly hurting LA’s image are REAP and SCEP. The Los Angeles Housing Department is using these to drive landlords out of business. REAP and SCEP create a further domino effect. The end result is that more poor people are becoming homeless.
Originally REAP was designed to punish slumlords, especially those who owned older buildings with many sub-standard units. In reality, REAP and SCEP have done much more damage than good. Now is the time to repeal these two damaging laws.
The LAHD is like a young tiger that has just come of age and savored its first taste of blood. It wants more. The LAHD, in the absence of those slumlords, because most of them have gone out of business, has trained its focus upon decent landlords who own older properties that are under rent control. The City of Los Angeles bears most of the blame because many rent-controlled units generate such little income that the landlord doesn’t have the flow of cash to fix every cosmetic problem as soon as it appears. I know of many landlords who are collecting $400 or less for a one-bedroom apartment. In some areas, that amount is about one third of fair market value. This oppressive atmosphere, created by the City of Los Angeles, is targeted against our housing providers.
The LAHD routinely enters and cites landlords for the most minor code violations – violations that are neither health nor habitability issues. Then it puts the building into REAP and often drives the landlord out of business. The reality is that older apartment buildings, especially those built before October 1, 1978 require more monthly maintenance than do newer buildings. But those same landlords, because of unfair rent-control laws, have the lowest cash flow.
Another problem caused by the City of Los Angeles is the difficulty landlords have in evicting tenants for over-crowding. In 2006, the Los Angeles City Council repealed a law that limited how many people per square foot could reside in an apartment. Now we have the situation where large families live in small apartments citywide. If there are six people living in a small one-bedroom apartment, that unit will experience excessive wear and tear. That is not the landlord’s fault. It is a tradition in many cultures that even the poorest families have a great number of children.
The end result is that there are thousands of landlords who own older apartment buildings and who are under attack by the LAHD. These buildings are over-crowded; they generate very little cash flow and require constant above average maintenance. From the LAHD’s point of view, everything is the landlord’s fault. Even when tenants admit to a housing inspector that they have done damage to the property, they are seldom cited. It is the landlord who is cited because, in the eyes of the LAHD, he/she is the enemy.
In LA, a landlord’s civil rights mean almost nothing. The managers of the LAHD create new policies on a whim and begin to enforce these policies as if they were part of the municipal code. This is illegal. These managers are creating a massive liability for our city.
Why are landlords being punished twice for the same code violation? A landlord is first punished when his/her building is put into REAP. The tenants are given a fifty percent rent deduction and they start paying that rent directly to the LAHD. This puts the landlord in a Catch-22 position. He/she does not have the income to pay the mortgage, insurance, taxes or fix the code violations. This, in itself, is overly cruel and unusual punishment.
The second punishment comes at the same time. While the LAHD has seized the landlord’s rent, the LAHD will ask the LA City Attorney’s Office to prosecute the landlord in criminal court. Now the court gets into the act to punish the landlord once again with more costs and fines. The landlord is unjustly under siege. First, the LAHD deprives the landlord of his/her cash flow; second, the City Attorney prosecutes the landlord for not making the repairs. How can any landlord make improvements to a property without the funds to pay for them?
Most of the landlords in this situation are small mom and pop housing providers. The City of Los Angeles is bankrupting many of the very people it should be helping: the elderly and minorities. Most mom and pop landlords have worked hard all their lives. They have contributed to our community and want some independence when they retire. The LAHD is robbing them of their livelihoods.
The truth is becoming more apparent. When we trace ownership of the thousands of properties that have been put in REAP over the years, where the landlords have lost their buildings in foreclosure, from what we have been told, we will discover that our City or a City/non-profit partnership has become the new owner. This smells like organized crime to any thinking person.
Why do so many housing inspectors have a storm-trooper personality? If you took a survey, you would find that the majority of LA landlords have had terrible experiences with housing inspectors. They talk to the landlord as if he/she is a criminal. Yet tenants, even those who admit to damaging their own apartments, are treated with warm smiles. Who orders the housing inspectors not to cite tenants when those same tenants freely admit to having removed smoke detectors and caused other damages?
If a landlord is not maintaining his/her building properly, to habitability and health standards, of course he/she should be cited. And if the landlord refuses to do the right thing, then he/she should be prosecuted in the courts. Those LAHD general manager hearings, held at the offices of the LAHD, are nothing more than theater: a sham kangaroo court. The presiding manager is draped in a robe, mimicking the appearance of a judge, but is not a real judge. The LAHD creates the illusion of due process. If murderers are entitled to their day in court, why are landlords in LA being denied the due process guaranteed to all of us?
This is the current situation in Los Angeles:
1. Unfair rent-control laws deprive landlords of the money they need to properly maintain their buildings.
2. Housing Inspectors cite landlords for minor issues and rarely cite tenants, even when tenants admit to having damaged the landlord’s property.
3. Property and rents are being expropriated from landlords without due process.
4. LAHD has created a hostile culture where landlords are prejudged to be the enemy and tenants are always assumed to be the victims.
Of course, there are good and bad landlords, just as there are good and bad renters. The law needs to be fair to both and treat each equally. To put matters in real world perspective, when it comes to crime in LA, what proportion is being caused by landlords? What proportion is being caused by tenants?
Our City’s image is being tarnished. Anyone who has ever studied sales knows that in a year a happy customer will praise a business where he or she got a good deal to four or five other persons. On the other hand an unhappy customer will disparage a business that ripped them off to at least one hundred other people. The senses of injustice and anger are very powerful driving forces. Consequently, LA is considered America’s largest most business unfriendly city. Eliminating REAP and SCEP will go a long way towards improving our city’s image. Retaining REAP and SCEP will continue to erode our city’s reputation.
The City of Los Angeles is ripping off our landlords. Many landlords own other businesses as well and the word is spreading about the Un-American agenda of the LAHD. Until the City of Los Angeles starts treating landlords fairly, word will continue to spread that LA is a highly corrupt city where no respectable businessman should invest. Landlords and business owners are fleeing LA in unprecedented numbers.
This must stop. To stop it we are asking for your vote to repeal both REAP and SCEP. These two distorted practices are doing exponentially much more harm than good. Most tenants in Los Angeles are intelligent. They do know who to call if their landlord is not making appropriate proper repairs. SCEP is an unnecessary and predatory institution. It is an invasion of our citizens’ privacy. We do not need it in Los Angeles.
Most renters, you will find, do not want housing inspectors roaming through their homes. It is an invasion of their privacy. What will come next? Will the LAHD have the LAPD going door to door to inspect houses and apartments in the hopes that they will find something illegal? We are asking for your help because you are a member of our Los Angeles City Council. We are asking for your vote to get rid of REAP and SCEP. These institutions make our City government look mean and vicious.
The LAHD has contempt for the law. A member of our coalition, Barbara Darwish, sued the LAHD and won her case in Superior Court. The judgment said that LAHD couldn’t use the “ministerial provisions” of the RSO to enforce building codes, as there were “enforcement provisions” codes in the LAMC. Ministerial provisions include charging fees. The LAHD and LADBS tried to use an internal memo between the general managers to claim that each department could enforce the others’ codes. General managers do not have the authority to make law.
When Ms. Darwish presented this court judgment to the Office of the LAHD she was told that the LAHD had no intention of complying with the judge’s ruling. This speaks volumes about their attitudes. LAHD is building an evil empire for itself. LAHD is out of control. LAHD must be stopped.
We would like to have a private meeting with you. Once we have ten Council Members who join with us in fostering a more equitable community in Los Angeles, the matter should be brought to the floor for a vote.
Bill Hooey, Fair Housing Coalition, Fighting For the Rights of Los Angeles Housing Providers. (323) 397-8740.