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At West Hollywood Hearing : Landlords Ask Easing of Rent Moratorium

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Times Staff Writer

Landlords asked the West Hollywood City Council to allow rent increases on vacant apartment units at a hearing Tuesday night on the city’s rent freeze.

In a packed meeting room in Plummer Park, landlords told City Council members John Heilman and Helen Albert, who make up the city’s Housing and Human Services Commission, that if several exemptions are not allowed, the city’s housing stock will deteriorate.

Landlords asked for fair rates of return on their investments, financial incentives and help with their problems with tenants.

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The hearing was called to see whether any general exemptions from the rent freeze should be enacted while the city is drafting a permanent rent control law. The temporary city ordinance expires May 1.

Many Claims

“A lot of people have approached the council with claims that they wanted exemptions,” Councilman Heilman said. “Rather than have the landlords come before the council on an ad-hoc basis, we decided to hold this hearing.”

Several landlords testified that they had not raised rents for several years and were stuck with rents that were below the market rate.

“All people want here is to be able to compete,” said Grafton P. Tanquary, president of West Hollywood Concerned Citizens. “Our basic goal is not to let what happened in Santa Monica happen here. There is a billion dollars worth of property in West Hollywood.”

Mentioned by landlords most often was some form of decontrol for apartments that are voluntarily vacated by tenants. Landlords also said that they should be allowed to pass the costs of capital improvements to tenants. And a few said that they had received approval for capital improvements from the county Rent Control Board before incorporation.

The moratorium was enacted on Nov. 29 after reports surfaced that landlords were raising rents and evicting tenants in anticipation of the passage of a strict rent control law.

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The moratorium rolls back rents on West Hollywood’s 20,000 rental units to the levels of Aug. 6, 1984. It also restricts unlawful evictions and imposes civil and criminal penalties on violators of the provisions.

Heilman and Albert said that they would draw up a list of the proposed exemptions for consideration at the Jan. 24 City Council meeting. Heilman said after Tuesday’s meeting that the city is unlikely to grant full vacancy decontrol. The council expects to hire a consultant to draft the permanent law by the end of the month, Heilman said.

A handful of tenants testified that the exemptions are not needed and that they were not properly notified of the hearing.

‘Open Mike’ for Landlords

“It seems to me this hearing is an open mike for landlords. . . . Why must landlords be given a special hearing?” said Joe Thompson, of the pro-tenant Campaign for Economic Survival. “Why can’t they wait until a special rent control consultant is hired?”

Barbara Grover, an aide to Albert, said notice of the meeting was posted at Plummer Park but that there was not enough time to notify everyone in the city. She said the meeting was not intended to be a public hearing on rent control but rather a forum for landlords to address the Housing and Human Services Committee.

There were more landlords than tenants at the meeting. When they spoke of hardships and a need for an exemption, members of the audience cheered and clapped. Some landlords were circulating a petition in opposition to the moratorium.

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Heilman said that many of the people who spoke opposed rent control in any form. “I don’t think the council would in effect repeal the ordinance, but there were some cases where fairness would make the council sympathetic,” he said.

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