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To help renters, LA moving to ban ‘no fault’ evictions

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“We simply can’t allow massive rent increases and unjust evictions to happen anymore,” councilmember says

Aerial view of a dense residential neighborhoods sprawled out in front of Downtown Los Angeles. A cluster of skyscrapers poke out in the distance.
The moratorium on evictions would apply to rental units built before January 1, 2006 and would be in effect until December 31.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Landlords would be barred from raising rentsand would have to show “cause” when evicting tenants—under draft emergency moratoriums approved unanimously today by the Los Angeles City Council.

The amount by which rents would be capped has not been spelled out. But the moratoriums are designed to help thousands of tenants who do not live in rent-controlled buildings and aren’t already protected by regulations on rent increases and evictions.

“It is our obligation... to ensure that families don’t end up on the streets,” says Los Angeles City Councilmember Nury Martinez, who emphasized that many families are just one medical bill or emergency away from not being able to afford their rent.

Multiple councilmembers say they’re hearing from tenants who are suddenly receiving eviction notices after the passage of statewide rent control last week.

The new California law has a “just cause” provision that will strip property owners of the ability to evict tenants without giving an explicit reason. But the state law will not go into effect until January 1.

Diana Castalleanos, a resident in the ninth council district and an organizer with ACCE, told the council she’s facing a rent increase from $1,495 to $2,350. It’s the second time her rent has been increased this year, she said.

“We are here looking for help,” she said.

Councilmembers say they fear landlords will kick out tenants with low rents for the sole purpose of collecting higher rents from new tenants before the law goes into effect.

“We are possibly witnessing the unintended consequences of a law that was designed to assist our low-income earners and families who struggle on the margins,” says Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. “We must do everything in our power to protect those renters... from landlords who are trying to take advantage of a window of opportunity,” O’Farrell says.

That fear may be becoming a reality. The Los Angeles-based Eviction Defense Network is working with tenants in 37 buildings where no-fault, 60-day eviction notices have been issued in the past week alone, according to attorney Elena Popp.

She says all of the building owners are represented by landlord attorney Dennis Block, who advised apartment owners at a trade show in Pasadena last week to “quickly hand out no-fault eviction notices to tenants who pay low rent or make frivolous requests” in advance of the statewide rent control law taking effect, according to the Los Angeles Times. Block did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

O’Farrell presented the motion with Councilmember Curren Price.

“Just this week, my office heard from a number of tenants whose rent hiked more than 150 percent within the last year alone,” says Price. “We simply can’t allow massive rent increases and unjust evictions to happen anymore.”

The moratorium on “no fault” evictions would apply to rental units built before January 1, 2006 and would be in effect until December 31. The draft does not define what constitutes “cause.” Typically, “cause” would include failure to violation of a lease and failure to pay rent.

But the moratorium on rent increases says that landlords could not evict tenants for failure to pay rent, if the landlord raised rents more than what’s allowed under California’s forthcoming rent control law—5 percent, plus inflation—between March 15, 2019 and January 1, 2020.

The city attorney will prepare an ordinance for council to consider and adopt. It’s expected to come back to the council quickly.

According to the motion, about 75 percent of multi-family units in the city of Los Angeles are covered by the local rent control ordinance, which bans “arbitrary” evictions. But there are no such protections for an estimated 138,000 renter households.