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Santa Monica Rent Board Commissioner Takes on ‘Ideologues’  

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

February 13, 2017 -- During a Santa Monica Rent Control Board meeting on Thursday that Chair Steve Duron described as adversarial, landlords accused the board of making regulations for the sake of doing something and a commissioner responded that the accusers were threatening democracy.

The hot topic getting people steamed was a proposal that landlords be required to provide new tenants with a one-page summary stating the person’s “rights and responsibilities under the rent control law.”

Commissioners approved the measure unanimously, but before voting they heard from some angry landlords and their representatives.

“Apparently you’re tired, you don’t have a life [and] you need to justify your existence,” J.L. Jacobson, a landlord advocate, told the board. “So why not just put another burden on the landlords? I think that’s a bad idea.”

He continued, "All of this is just justification for bureaucrats who have nothing better to do, and it’s a good example of why so many businesses are leaving California and going to Texas. Because the regulators can’t leave well enough alone. They just can’t stop regulating.”

Michael Millman, who sits on the Action Apartment Association board, called the measure “a silly regulation,” but said he would comply “in good faith.”

Millman objected to a feature in the measure that landlords failing to provide the notice would not be allowed to raise the rent during the annual adjustment. He said the association might sue the board.

This commentary did not sit well with the commissioners, especially Todd Flora.

“Sometimes people say when you hear a politician talk, ‘hang onto your wallet,’” Flora said. “When I hear ideologues who don’t even believe we should exist talk, hold onto your to democracy.”

He continued, “I’ve never understood arguments against additional information. When people don’t want reasonable information simply imparted for the benefit of the public, hold onto your democracy. Something is going on.”

Board Chair Duron said the adversarial tone of the meeting could be avoided in the future if landlords and rent board officials sat down and talked more about specific topics.

This measure was proposed in the fall by Commissioner Anastasia Foster, who said that when she had moved to Santa Monica several years ago from Chicago, she was not aware of many of her rights for a long time after signing a lease (“New Santa Monica Tenants Should Receive Official Notice of Their Rights, Rent Commissioner Says,” October 14, 2016).

Commissioner Nicole Phillis called the measure “smart and necessary” on Thursday.

“I know many tenants who have been harmed by the fact that they don’t quite understand what it means to be in a rent control unit,” Phillis said.

“Sometimes these tenants end up giving up their rights or vacating without fully understanding what they are entitled to.”

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