The Los Angeles City Council tentatively voted Friday to provide tenants who are behind on their rent with a one-month grace period prior to their landlord beginning eviction proceedings, adding to an ordinance adopted last week implementing universal just-cause rules for evictions.
The council also discussed an ordinance that would provide relocation assistance if a tenant cannot afford rent increases of a certain amount, but delayed a vote on the item until Tuesday due to an amendment requiring more time for the city attorney’s office to edit the draft ordinance.
The ordinances are part of a package of renter aid ahead of the expiration of the COVID-19 state of emergency at the end of the month. The council’s decision to end the state of emergency also sunsets the temporary tenant protections that have been in place since the start of the pandemic, putting pressure on itself to enact policy ahead of the deadline.
The council voted 9-2 on Friday for the ordinance that allows tenants behind on rent to stay in their apartments for a month, unless they owe more than one month’s worth of fair market rent. The ordinance includes an urgency clause, but will need to come before the council for a second vote next Friday because it did not pass unanimously. Neither ordinance discussed Friday would be adopted before the state of emergency expires.
According to the city’s housing department, fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is $1,747 and $2,222 for a two-bedroom.
Tenant groups feared a wave of evictions once the long-standing protections expire. The volume of eviction filings has begun to resemble pre-pandemic levels, according to Kyle Nelson, a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA and a member of the LA Renters’ Right to Counsel Coalition.
Nelson, who has compiled data on evictions in Los Angeles County during the pandemic through court filings, said the number of filings could increase to levels not seen since the Great Recession — which contributed to more than 72,000 eviction filings in 2008. According to the National Equity Atlas, there are 226,000 households in Los Angeles County behind on rent.
“We are deeply concerned that lifting protections without adopting robust permanent policies will trigger a wave of evictions and homelessness that we have been fearing since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Faizah Malik, senior staff attorney at Public Counsel.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors extended by two months its tenant protections against eviction for those impacted by COVID-19, which would cover city residents.
Heidi Gonzalez, a renter, told the council that she is a single mother raising a year-old daughter. She said she has dealt with having her water, gas and electricity turned off, and that her landlord sent child protective services to her home.
“Because you have failed those people that are sleeping on the streets, do not open a door to put more people on the streets when you don’t know what to do with the ones that are already on the streets,” Gonzalez said.
Last week, the council adopted an ordinance implementing universal just cause to require a reason for evictions, and requested drafts of the ordinances discussed on Friday.
The council went into closed session for over two hours to discuss the proposed ordinances with representatives from the city attorney’s office. Council members Paul Krekorian and Curren Price, who are landlords, recused themselves from the vote on the overdue rent ordinance.
Councilwoman Traci Park, one of the two dissenting votes along with Councilman John Lee, called the ordinances rushed and unbalanced.
“I’m concerned that this will only create more uncertainty and risk for both tenants and landlords, the exact things we are trying to prevent,” Park said.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield said he understood the concerns and the potential impact of the ordinances on the city’s housing stock, but said that “the benefits of preventing people from being evicted for being a day late and a dollar short … outweigh those risks for the moment.”
Two groups representing landlords, the California Apartment Association and the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, sent letters to the council threatening litigation if the council adopted the ordinances. Attorneys for both organizations claimed the relocation assistance requirement would violate the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which allows landlords to raise rent on units once a tenant moves out to the market rate.
“The harmful draft ordinances are being fast-tracked in the complete absence of meaningful stakeholder engagement and thoughtful evaluation of the negative impacts these ordinances will have on the city,” said Max Sherman, associate director of government affairs for AAGLA.
Douglas Dennington, an attorney representing AAGLA, wrote in a letter that the council had not demonstrated a need for an urgency clause because ” `homelessness’ is nothing new in the City of Los Angeles,” claiming that the city was ignoring the normal process for adopting an ordinance.
“As such, if one or both ordinances are adopted, they are obviously susceptible to immediate enjoinder,” Dennington wrote.
In response, 11 legal groups representing tenants filed their own letter to the council to counter that the proposed ordinances were legally sound.
“Costa-Hawkins does not restrict a city’s ability to regulate and monitor evictions, including requiring relocation assistance for tenants displaced by large rent increases,” the letter states.
Jonathan Jager, staff attorney at Legal Aid Foundation — one of the 11 groups — called legal threats a “distraction” and told the council that the ordinances were on “solid legal footing.”
“Don’t let spurious threats of litigation motivated by self-interest rather than public policy distract you from voting yes,” Jager said.