With the economy faltering and families struggling, now is the time to strengthen and expand tenant protections. But the corporate landlord lobby is pushing to repeal protections and make it easier to throw people onto the streets.
We must stand with tenants and win this fight.
During the pandemic, officials in Los Angeles and around the country approved new rules to protect renters and prevent mass evictions. In many places, those protections have expired and tenants are in peril. The landlord lobby and its allies are salivating to do the same in the LA area.
The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles has launched a campaign to rollback pandemic-era protections, hike rents, and increase the number of evictions. That’s a disaster in the making for a city struggling with a homelessness crisis. In Santa Monica, the landlord lobby has conservative councilmembers (in the middle of the night and with no advance public notice) trying to gut the city’s landmark rent control rules.
In the City of Los Angeles, when the COVID state of emergency ends, so does the legal foundation for some of our tenant protections. Before that happens, we need to find ways to keep every tenant protection we legally can, and implement additional ones. We need to put in place every safeguard we possibly can to keep people stably housed. Renters are, after all, the majority of the residents in Los Angeles.
We can take several specific, concrete steps:
- The City of Los Angeles should approve a proposal I made just before the pandemic to further limit rent increases for all rent-controlled units in LA. Under the current formula, rent increases track changes to inflation. As a result, when Covid protections end, tenants could see a rent hike of 8%, which would be devastating and cause families to lose their homes. Other cities have tighter formulas — and we need that in LA. My proposal would limit allowable rent increases to 60% of the consumer price index (used to track inflation), and eliminate the current 3% floor. This would bring us closer in line with other cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills.
- We should extend “just cause” eviction rules to all rental units, meaning landlords can only evict tenants for certain, specific reasons. Right now, these protections only apply to tenants in older units. But all renters deserve the same protection against evictions.
- We also need to remove barriers that prevent people from finding a place to live. Tenant screenings in LA keep getting more onerous, making it near impossible for those without sky-high incomes and perfect credit to be approved. That’s why Nithya Raman, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and I introduced a motion which would prohibit LA landlords from asking about failure to pay rent or utilities during COVID-19, or using algorithmic screening services or credit checks in evaluating applications. Research shows that median credit scores are significantly lower in L.A. communities of color than in majority-white communities. People of color were also more likely to lose wages and take on debt to pay for rent and food during COVID-19. This is hamstringing our ability to get people off the streets and into apartments. LA was awarded 3,365 emergency housing vouchers through the American Rescue Plan, but it has been a serious challenge to get landlords to accept tenants who hold them.
Opponents of renter protections say they harm “Mom & Pop” landlords, who are struggling to make ends meet. We can and we should support small landlords, but it’s remarkably cynical to suggest the only way we can do that is by punishing or harming tenants.
The truth is the vast majority of rental units in LA are owned by big landlords — corporations, speculative real estate interests, and secretive LLCs. These types of owners are far likelier to threaten eviction, cut back services, harass or make life miserable for tenants. That’s why we need a right to counsel for tenants in Los Angeles, and it’s why I have been pushing for an ordinance to require disclosure of the owners of the LLCs purchasing residential property in LA.
The landlord lobby is putting up a major fight to shape the upcoming City Council discussions about the scope of renter protections. You can add your voice to the call for expanded tenant protections through this online portal: https://cityclerk.lacity.org/publiccomment/?cfnumber=21-0042-S3
You can also engage with ACCE Action, Public Counsel, Community Power Collective, SAJE, Inner City Law Center, the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation, LACAN, Coalition for Economic Survival, Eviction Defense Network, ACT-LA, LA Tenants Union, Disability Rights California, LA Forward, and many others. They are all doing great work on this issue.
If you are a tenant, and you are uncertain of your rights, have questions about assistance programs, or need help fighting an eviction, please visit StayHousedLA.org, or for immediate assistance, call 1–888–694–0040.