City Council extends rent control ordinance

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CULVER CITY — The City Council voted July 16 to extend the city’s interim rent control ordinance through Oct. 31 as a sign of support for housing security for renters during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During a special City Council meeting, the council voted 4-1 to adopt an urgency ordinance to extend the ordinance, which was scheduled to expire Aug. 11.

“This ordinance is about protecting the small landlords as much as it is about protecting the renters,” Councilman Thomas Small said. “Those things go right together.”

Councilmen Daniel Lee and Alex Fisch and Councilwoman Meghan Sahli-Wells also voted in favor of extending rental protections.

Mayor Göran Eriksson, citing a preference to develop a rental assistance program specifically targeting low-income individuals and families instead of a rent control ordinance, cast the lone dissenting vote.

The rent control extension comes as rents continue to rise in Culver City and other parts of Los Angeles County. Many renters were left unemployed due to COVID-19-related business closures and job losses, and were at risk of being unprotected had the ordinance expired Aug. 11.

The City Council approved the interim rent control ordinance Aug. 12, 2019, establishing measures that included an annual rent increase cap; just-cause and no-fault eviction provisions; a rental registry; relocation assistance benefits; and a process for landlords to petition for relief from the cap under certain circumstances.

Rental units built before Feb. 1, 1995 are subject to rent control, while all dwellings in Culver City are subject to just-cause and no-fault eviction protection, according to a rent control program ordinance checklist and a tenant protection program ordinance checklist, both of which summarize rent control provisions.

All Culver City renters are also protected by the city’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium. Tenants cannot be evicted for delinquent rents occurring during the moratorium period and have 12 months to repay back rent once the moratorium expires on Aug. 31.

The rent control ordinance was intended to protect renters temporarily while the city studied options for a permanent rent control program. It is modeled after the Los Angeles County Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

During the hour-long public comment period, 22 landlords and tenants weighed in on the issues of interim and permanent renter protections and landlord rights.

The majority of landlords were not in favor of rent control. One of them, Robert Zirgulis, said that small mom-and-pop landlords were being scammed by non-paying tenants who know that under the ordinance, landlords cannot file unlawful detainers against tenants who refuse to leave after being evicted.

“Wiley tenants are gaming the system,” he said.

Another landlord, Luke Freeborn, said that rent control is bad for the city, renters and owners.

“If you force something below market value, people will supply less of it,” Freeborn said. “If investors do come, they’re more likely to tear down older rent control buildings and put newer, exempt buildings in their place.”

Property owner Meg Sullivan said that local rent control is unnecessary in light of AB 1482, the state’s rent control measure that caps increases at 5-10% for areas not covered by rent control ordinances.

Renters, however, said they need a permanent local measure in place to protect them from unfair rent hikes and harassment from landlords.

Culver City renter Nkiruka Odunze, a single parent and educator, said that tenants need permanent protections to ensure fair and equitable housing.

“Permanent rent control measures would help support residents such as myself who are very much struggling during these financially uncertain times,” she said. “Adopting rent control is the moral thing to do at this time.”

Rose Valencia spoke on behalf of her 80-year-old aunt who had surgery and was put on bed rest by her doctor. The landlord wanted to sell the unit and gave the woman a 60-day notice. Under Culver City’s eviction moratorium, the woman was able to remain in the home she had lived in for 20 years.

Valencia concluded by saying that the owner continues to harass her aunt, insisting that she pay utilities that were never previously included in her rent and prohibited her from using the driveway.

Another resident, Sabastian Hernandez, read a letter from substitute school teacher Brian Pogue. A Culver City resident for 20 years, Pogue said he had hoped to retire in Culver City, but said his landlord consistently raised his rent by 7% each year and increased rent on vacant units up to 50%.

“I’m reasonably worried that my landlord is very likely to increase the rent on my unit to the point of being unaffordable. As it is, my rent accounts for about 70% of my monthly expenses,” Pogue wrote.

Several members of Protect Culver City Renters advocated for the organization’s five-point proposal for a permanent rent protection ordinance that includes anti-harassment protections.

A Culver City rent control policies study published by BAE Urban Economics in May found that 48.3% of households in Culver City were renter-occupied in 2019. Forty-three percent of Culver City renters were also considered cost-burdened, spending more than 30% of their household income on rent, according to data from 2012-2016.

Of those estimated 3,500 cost-burdened households, more than half were paying over 50% of their income on rent.

Assistant City Attorney Heather Baker said landlords may still impose an annual rent increase of up to 3%, provided they do so at least 12 months after any previous increase.

Baker added that the rent control ordinance extension will provide time to develop a permanent rent control and tenant protection program for consideration. City staff would be able to develop a draft ordinance for City Council review before Oct. 31.

By Cynthia Gibson

Contributing Writer

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