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Council Moves to Add Tenant Protections to Small Owner-Occupied Buildings

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By Jorge Casuso

September 4, 2019 -- Santa Monica landlords who occupy their two-and three unit buildings may have to give tenants relocation payments if they jack up the rents.

The City Council last week directed staff to draft an ordinance that gives tenants in owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes -- which are exempted under the City's 1979 rent control law -- the same relocation benefits as rent control tenants.

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Once an owner moves in, the rents on the remaining units can be raised to market rates, driving tenants out, said Council member Kevin McKeown, who with Ted Winterer co-sponsored the motion.

Those tenants "don't have the protections other tenants do," McKeown said.

Under the proposed ordinance, income-qualified tenants who must relocate would also be given priority on the City's affordable housing waiting list.

Rent Board officials say it is impossible to gauge how many tenants are displaced from owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes because the properties are no longer under the purview of the board.

"If an owner tries to raise the rent, they're not required to tell us because the property is exempt," said Rent Board Administrator Tracy Condon.

"We do anecdotally hear of these situations," she said of tenants being pushed out by higher rents.

At its monthly meetings, the Rent Board usually grants a few owner-occupancy exemptions, Condon said. In some of the cases, the units on the properties are already vacant.

There was no staff report or discussion, and it appears no tenants were displaced.

Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) Co-chairs Patricia Hoffman and Denny Zane urged the Council to draft an ordinance.

"We suggest that relocation payments for the units other than the one the owner moved into should be as much as the owner-occupied eviction standard," they wrote in the August 26 letter.

"In accordance with other eviction protections, seniors, disabled persons, and families with a child in the school district should not have to move for one year, or be subject to the construction eviction increase during that year," SMRR said.

"Any and all other eviction protections should continue to apply."

Last Tuesday's action comes two weeks after the Council directed staff to find ways to deter Santa Monica landlords from illegally renting rent control units that have been removed from the market.

It is unclear whether the practice is widespread, since the item was approved unanimously without discussion ("Council Directs Staff to Tighten Santa Monica's Reoccupancy Law," August 16, 2019).

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