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Council temporarily bans no-fault evictions

LOS ANGELES — The City Council unanimously adopted an emergency ordinance Oct. 22 aimed at halting “no-fault” evictions of many rental-unit tenants until Jan. 1, when a new state law takes effect providing similar protections.

Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month signed AB 1482, the Tenant Protections Act of 2019, which is designed to prevent rent gouging and arbitrary evictions. The law, however, does not take effect until the beginning of the year, raising fears that landlords will evict tenants or rapidly increase rents in advance of the law being enacted.

No-fault evictions are defined as tenants being evicted for reasons that are no fault of their own.

David Michaelson, the city’s chief assistant attorney, said the ordinance adopted by the council provides a new level of eviction protections that could go into effect by the end of the week.

Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the ordinance following the council’s vote.

“Our city is experiencing a housing crisis, and we should be using every available tool to keep people in their homes, and runaway rents in check,” Garcetti said. “This ordinance is an important measure that will prevent evictions before the new state law takes effect, and I am proud to be able to sign it into law today.”

The ordinance establishes eviction protection for renters in non-rent-stabilized housing built before 2005.

A companion proposal to limit rent increases until the new year is still being worked on by city staff, according to Rick Coca, a spokesman for Councilwoman Nury Martinez. Coca said that measure should be ready by the end of the week.

Martinez said she wants to “create a rent-relief program for people to stay in their homes until Jan. 1.”

“We need to ensure we have the right programs in place so we can get relief to these folks as soon as possible,” Martinez said.

According to Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office, the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department has reported a increase in the number of calls and inquiries about sudden eviction notices, suggesting that property owners are issuing no-fault eviction notices to tenants who pay low rents in advance of the state law taking effect.

O’Farrell said the state’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act and the Ellis Act put limits on the protections the city can enact on behalf of tenants.

“We have this two-and-a-half month window before the state law goes into effect because the state law did not have an emergency clause,” O’Farrell said. “We constantly are bumping up against two state laws that are harming our ability to protect renters.”

Residents attending the council meeting called for a provision making the measure retroactive, with some saying they have already received no-fault eviction notices.

A woman who identified herself as Rose Serna said she had received a 60-day eviction notice while the state bill was still pending. She said she was supposed to vacate her apartment Oct. 17, but her landlord was waiting for the council’s action to decide whether to enforce the notice.

As an example, Michaelson said if a tenant is issued a 60-day eviction notice and has 20 days left, the new city ordinance could stop the eviction.

“It does have a somewhat backward-looking view,” Michaelson said.

But he said tenants who were given eviction notices and have already reached their move-out dates may not be able to combat it.

“Where an eviction has already run its course and the tenant has been evicted … having a local law or state law try to unravel that, and the ramifications associated with that, presents legal concerns, no question about it,” Michaelson said.

Councilman Gilbert Cedillo said based on his experience working with landlords in his district, the city ordinance doesn’t go far enough to retroactively protect people.

“It would seem to me that we the locals would want to augment the state law … and make sure every tenant is protected,” he said. “Given the nature of this legislation … a matter that hasn’t been finally adjudicated should be [protected].”

According to city officials, 60% of the city’s residents are renters and a majority of them are rent-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income for housing.

Although about 76% of the multi-family rental units in Los Angeles are regulated by the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which protects renters from large rent increases and arbitrary evictions, there are no similar protections for about 138,000 households that will be covered by the state law on Jan. 1.

“If we don’t put our foot down, it’s going to be hundreds maybe thousands of buildings” of people evicted, Councilman Paul Koretz said.

“Everything that we’ve done could be wiped out and we could end up with literally thousands of people on the streets.”

Councilman John Lee said it has been his policy to not tell businesses — such as landlords — what they can and can’t do. But he said times have changed and housing issues need to be addressed just like a natural disaster to decrease the number of people ending up on the streets.

“We have to do more to help increase the housing stock because basic economics would bring prices down if we have the demand but not the supply,” Lee said. “Too often, we say the burden should be placed on businesses … when there’s a societal issue. We need to look at fees and regulations … so we can build more affordable housing.”

The ordinance does not apply to people living in nursing homes, nonprofit housing, dormitories at schools or similarly subsidized housing. An earlier statement from O’Farrell’s office suggested it would apply to units built before 2006, but it was passed to apply to units built before 2005.

The state law is to be in effect until 2030, unless voters extend it.

Wave Wire Services