Good Guys Finish First…Sometimes

By Carol Fondiller

Fourteen million Americans of low and middle income are spending more than half their income on housing, and nowhere in any state in the Union does a full-time job on minimum wage enable most families to pay fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to close down—temporarily—a loophole that enabled landlords to evict long-term tenants from their apartments under the guise of rehabilitation.

“It was like a scene out of the movies,” said Larry Gross, Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival. “We didn’t think we had a chance of getting the moratorium through on the first hearing.”

Under the city’s current rent control law, building owners can have tenants removed if owners spend $10,000 or more on an apartment and require the apartment to be vacant for 45 days.

Los Angeles, where over half of the residents are renters, is experiencing a major shortage of affordable rental stock. Housing advocates allege that landlords are abusing the city’s law by using overpriced repairs for improvements as an excuse to remove tenants and raise rents. “They’re making repairs on perfectly good affordable housing” said Larry Gross. “In most cases the repairs are not needed.”

Allen Abshey, an attorney for Lincoln Place Apartments in Venice claimed that the moratorium is a response to a long-running dispute over what happens to the 795-unit complex.

Owners wanted to demolish the housing units, many of which were inhabited by tenants who lived in these units for more than 20 years. The city has so far prohibited them from doing so.

Last year the L.A. Housing Department received 111 landlord declarations of intent to evict for purposes of major rehabilitation. This is more than 12 times the number received in 1992.

According to Elena Popp of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, many tenants lose their apartments because of landlord intimidation and their ignorance of tenants’ rights.

When the moratorium was discussed, it was pointed out that the city had failed to enforce certain provisions of the ordinance. For example, when an owner evicts tenants for the purpose of rehabilitation, the owner must offer 25 percent of the renovated units to previous tenants at the previous rent. When an owner has stated the intent to evict for rehabilitation, the city issues re-rental certificates to insure rental to previous tenants. But between the years 2000-2002 the city received 22 re-rental applications and only processed six. The head of the Housing Department said this was due to understaffing and an increased workload.

At the meeting to discuss the moratorium, tenant groups overflowed the city hall chambers. Charles Ishun of the Greater Los Angeles Apartment Association put his association’s spin on the matter when he essentially said that for the city council to adopt a program that says we don’t want buildings to be upgraded is foolish. Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival put things back in perspective. This is not about making repairs to substandard or slum housing. It is about landlords and developing and gentrifying affordable housing and getting higher rents.

During the discussion, Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski of the 11th District said she knew of nonprofits that did major rehabilitation without evicting tenants. Sheila Bernard, President of the Lincoln Place Tenant Association had been to several hearings regarding the moratorium. “We felt in order to protect our tenancy, we needed to have this moratorium.”

The moratorium is for only six months. During the six months a committee will be set up to oversee a major rehab of the major rehab ordinance. One plan would be to totally eliminate evictions by temporarily relocating tenants to comparable housing in the area while rehab is in progress and allowing tenants to move back into units at the existing rent. Another initiative would amend the $10,000 minimum for rehabilitation and exclude cosmetic repairs. This limit has not been revisited since 1994.

Our new city councilwoman, Cindy Miscikowski of our new council district was very receptive to the idea of the moratorium. Call her and voice your support for more protection of tenants!

Posted: Thu - August 1, 2002 at 05:55 PM