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Council Strengthens Tenant Protections Amid Uptick in Evictions


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By Jorge Casuso

Editor's note: This article was updated at noon Thursday to clarify that the City data are for eviction notices filed with the City Attorney's office. The data does not indicate how many resulted in evictions.

January 24, 2024 -- Spurred by 67 eviction notices filed in Santa Monica last year, the City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to strengthen the City's "robust" tenant protection laws already in place.

The move is a response to a regional increase in eviction notice filings after COVID-related tenant protections expired during a persistent housing crisis, City officials said.

The added protections -- which will take effect on March 14 -- "clarify and expand the types of actions that constitute harassment" and "outline examples of prohibited coercion and intimidation," officials said.

They approved amendments also include increasing the maximum penalty for harassment from $10,000 to $20,000 per violation "to keep up with inflation and remain a meaningful deterrent," staff wrote in a report to the Council.

"The purpose of this," said Councilmember Gleam Davis, "is to protect tenancies so people don't end up on the street."

"I think it's really incumbent on us to try to stem the tide (of evictions) with every tool that we have," said Councilmember Caroline Torosis.

According to City data, the number of annual eviction notices filed with the City Attorney's office increased from 19 filed in 2021, to 25 filed in 2022 to the 67 eviction notices filed last year.

The staff report does not indicate whether the filings cover the city's approximately 27,500 rent-controlled units or also the estimated 9,000 market rate units not covered by rent control. Staff also does not indicate how many of the filings resulted in evictions.

City staff, however, said the number of evictions filed is "likely under-representative" because "some landlords are not aware of or choose not to follow the requirement to file eviction documents."

Under the approved amendments, the types of actions that constitute harassment include changing locks and doors to evict a tenant and refusing to accept rent payments.

They also include imposing excessive or unlawful rent increases and
retaliating against a tenant for reporting a violation.

The amendments also outline two examples of prohibited coercion and intimidation, including "refusing to cooperate with a tenant’s request to lawfully replace an occupant who has moved out," officials said.

The other prohibits landlords from "repeatedly offering to buy a tenant out after having been informed the tenant does not want to be bought out."

Councilmember Davis said tenants are offered "what feels like a lot of money, but it doesn't go far in the Southern California housing market."

"There's a constant drumbeat of people trying to buy people out" in order to boost rents under vacancy decontrol, Davis said.

The Council also extended buyout agreement protections "to tenants in non-rent-controlled multi-family housing subject to local just cause eviction protections," officials said.

"Any buyout agreement -- when a tenant agrees to move out of their unit in exchange for money or a waiver of rent -- must be for at least the amount required by the Tenant Relocation Code."

The new rules also "allow tenants to cite a landlord’s failure to file a buyout agreement with the city as a defense against an eviction," officials said.

In addition to amending the Tenant Protection Code, Housing Anti-Discrimination Code, Tenant Relocation Code, Tenant Harassment Code and Tenant Buyout Agreements Code, the Council directed staff to draft a ballot measure.

The charter amendment "would prohibit evictions for tenants with small rental debts and evictions based on a tenant making authorized alterations to their unit without a city permit."

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