LA City Council sends rent control ordinance back to committee

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Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

A sign for an apartment to rent is seen in Los Angeles on May 27, 2009.

Minor scuffles broke out today in the council chamber after the Los Angeles City Council voted to send back to a committee a proposed ordinance that would have prevented owners of large apartment buildings from raising rent by 3 percent on July 1.

The move — which means the council is unlikely to impose any sort of moratorium by July 1 — prompted angry outbursts from the packed council chamber, and several scuffles broke out. Police officers at the meeting had to physically restrain some people in the audience.

The council chamber was packed with supporters of tenants and landlords alike, but they waited hours for the council to take up the issue during a meeting filled with other issues. Once the rent-hike moratorium issue was referred back to a committee, tenants and their supporters began chanting loudly, and the boisterous crowd became unruly.

Santa Monica Rent Control Commissioner Robert Kronovet said today on the Patt Morrison program that landlords put a lot of money into maintaining apartment property and are at a disadvantage when locals politicians simply side with tenants and ignore the economic hardships facing landlords.

“The lawmakers [in Santa Monica] were simply looking to capitalize on the political advantages of keeping rent low, but it earned us the moniker ‘skid row by the sea.’ So instead of doing what the people want, the city council needs to do what’s right," Kronovet said.

Police in the chamber were seen restraining some people in the audience. The council chamber was eventually sealed, and the council meeting went into recess.

Owners of rent-controlled apartment buildings — properties with two or more units built before 1978 — normally would be allowed to raise rent by 3 percent on July 1.

The proposed ordinance would block that increase, except for so-called "mom-and-pop'' landlords who have only five units or fewer. It would also freeze rents through Oct. 31, with the possibility of an extension through Dec. 31. Los Angeles has about 630,000 rent-controlled units, and more than 61 percent of residents are believed to be renters.

After listening to emotional testimony from landlords and tenants, the council tentatively approved the ordinance by an 8-6 vote on May 7.

Elizabeth Blaney, with the Los Angeles Right to Housing Collective, told Patt Morrison today that rent increases would take millions of dollars that go to basic necessities out of the pockets of renters.

“Tenants have been subsidizing the costs of landlords and keeping their businesses alive for far too long. Now landlords may have to actually do their jobs and figure out ways to use money wisely instead of raising rent to solve their problems,” Blainey said.

But the divided council declined to cast a final vote today, referring the issue back to committee — essentially ensuring that no moratorium proposal could be brought back to the full council in time to take effect by July 1.

Under the city's Rent Stabilization Ordinance, landlords can raise rent annually in an amount equal to or less than the percentage increase in the U.S. Consumer Price Index for that year.

The minimum allowable rent increase is 3 percent, even in years when the CPI is less than 3 percent. Currently, the CPI is -0.62 percent.

Councilman Richard Alarcon pushed for a new ordinance that would freeze rents at their current levels for a year.

Councilman Herb Wesson, however, called for shortening the time period to four months, from July 1 to Oct. 31. Councilwoman Janice Hahn proposed granting an exemption to "mom and pop'' landlords.

KPCC's Corey Moore contributed audio to this report.

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