West Hollywood may give renters the first chance to buy when landlords sell their homes

A man cleans the windows on the outside Wendell Jones' apartment in West Hollywood where he fought to keep his rent-controlled apartment.
A man cleans the windows on the outside Wendell Jones' apartment in West Hollywood where he fought to keep his rent-controlled apartment.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

The West Hollywood City Council is looking into whether renters should get first dibs when their landlords decide to sell their homes. 

It’s called a right of first refusal, and it would allow renters a better chance to become property owners.

West Hollywood's Mayor Pro Tempore Lauren Meister introduced the idea during this week's city council meeting. In the 4-1 vote, the council voted to ask city staff to look into how feasible the idea is.

"Right now what we see happening in the City of West Hollywood is buildings were built in the 30s or the 40s - these cute little triplexes or fourplexes - are being bought, and they’re basically being demolished."

Tenants are then left to find a new apartment or house to rent.

"The way rents are in West Hollywood, they probably won’t be able to find another apartment in West Hollywood," she said.

This has become more common throughout Southern California, as the housing market has heated up. With real estate prices high, more landlords are choosing to sell their properties. Renters who lose their apartments in cities with rent-control laws (like Los Angeles and West Hollywood) often find that they will have to pay far more in rent than they have in the past.

Those renters may not be in a position to buy. But the law would help other renters in West Hollywood who are actively looking to buy a home, with money to put down, who have simply been outbid by all-cash buyers.

Critics say, though, it would slow down the sales process for landlords.

"The red tape that’s involved really makes this type of program a problem," said James Clarke from the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, which represents landlords.

He said landlords would be forced to wait for tenants to qualify for a mortgage to buy the property, and to decide if they want the property in the first place.

Los Angeles considered the same idea years ago, and Santa Monica approved a similar program in the 1980s, but it eventually expired.

Washington D.C. has one in place, which Meister cited as an example when explaining her idea for West Hollywood.

Meister said the council will be updated on the feasibility of the project, and will ask for community input in the coming months.