The expiration of rent control in Marina del Rey has led to rent increases ranging from 9% to as high as 45% and to more calls for incorporation of the county-owned marina, according to an informal Times survey.
Most of the increases exceed the 9% allowed each year under the Los Angeles County rent control ordinance, which the Board of Supervisors has refused to extend. The hikes also exceed the Los Angeles consumer price index increase of 4.6% for 1984.
A group of renters last year began a drive to form a city of Marina del Rey which, they said, would enact a rent control law, to head off what they predicted would be enormous increases this year. Some tenants said last week that their resolve to stay and form a city has been strengthened. Others have already moved, or plan to when their increase notices arrive.
Landlords said, in response, that their increases have been fair and that they have asked for only a portion of what they could get on the open market.
Rent control is being phased out this year for all apartments in the unincorporated areas of the county, including Marina del Rey. Controls expire and rents are increased on the lease anniversary date for each apartment. No rent-controlled apartments will remain by year's end.
As of Dec. 1, 1,492 of the marina's 5,813 apartments were subject to rent control, which held some units hundreds of dollars below the open-market rent. The remaining units were exempted when the rent ordinance was written in 1979, because they were considered luxury units. Others were decontrolled when tenants moved out.
Bob and Jean Galanti rent one of the dozens of apartments that has been decontrolled since Jan. 1. They will pay $1,000 a month beginning April 1 for their two-bedroom apartment in the Deauville Marina, an increase of 24% over their current rent of $808.
Bob Galanti, 66, said he had asked the manager of the building to limit the increase to 11%. "But without rent control there was not much that I could say," he said. "I did not have anything backing me up. It's like banging your head against the wall."
Jean Galanti, 61, said that she works part time but that her husband is retired. Like several older couples faced with an increase, the Galantis said they might be forced out of the marina. They have lived in the same apartment for 13 years and do not want to leave.
The manager of the property, Joseph Yousem, said he has tried to be sensitive to his tenants, while attempting to bring rents closer to those of apartments not under rent control.
"There is no typical increase," he said. "I meet with each tenant individually and discuss with them what the market rate is, how long they have lived there and what they need in their apartment. . . . Then we negotiate a mutually agreeable increase."
Yousem said that only a few tenants have been upset by their new rents.
Increases at Deauville and Bar Harbor apartments, a nearby complex also managed by Yousem, have ranged from 11% to 25%. "Generally the increases have been a split between what the market is and what the rent was under rent control," Yousem said.
At another building, the Dolphin Marina apartments, tenant Al Dix said he will not move despite an increase of 20% (including parking), from $696 to $835. "I'm thinking about hanging on for a year," Dix said, "and hoping that incorporation will go through. Then the new city might roll back rents. . . . I feel very strongly that it will become a city."
Organizers of the cityhood drive expected to receive a study on the feasibility of incorporation from a county commission last week. The report, from the director of the Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission, is the first step toward cityhood. Proponents must then file papers and petitions to have the commission consider putting incorporation on the ballot.
Some apartment dwellers whose rents had already been increased recently, have been hard hit by the newest raises. Linda Ross, for example, said she was paying $815 a month for her apartment in Mariners Village in September. The rent was increased to $895 in October, and she has received notice that it will jump to $1,002 in April and to $1,122 in October, for a total increase of just under 38% for a one-bedroom apartment with a den.
"To have this slammed on you suddenly is extraordinary," Ross said. "I don't know what I will do."
Manager Gloria Ramsey said increases for 12 apartments that have been decontrolled thus far range from 17% to 45%. Ramsey has met with each of the affected tenants and she said that most have accepted the increases without complaint.
She said renters who believe they cannot afford their increase will be given the chance to move into smaller apartments at Mariners Village, or into a neighboring complex. None have been forced to move out of the marina because of the increases, Ramsey said.
The owners of the building, Ring Brothers Management Corp., plan to raise all rents in Mariners Village within a year to whatever the market will bear.
Awaiting the Ax
Owners of other complexes, such as the Del Rey Shores apartments, have promised to keep rent increases near the level that would have been allowed by the county.
"I have people that were living here and they said, 'I don't know when the ax is going to fall,' " said Jerry Epstein, owner of Del Rey Shores. "I sent a letter to everyone telling them when they would be off rent control and telling them that their increase would not be more than 10% this year and sometimes less.
"I have apartments that are $300 to $400 below the market level, but they are good tenants and I am not going to give them increases that large."
A renter in another building who received a 10.6% increase, said he was relieved. "I knew it was coming," said Mel Gamm, 62. "But really I thought they were going to increase my rent all at one fell swoop and I was pleased that it was only 10.6% I thought they would raise it from $637 right up to $820."
Gamm's new rent in the Admiralty apartments is $705. But he does not know how soon, or how large, his next increase will be.
Renters who are unhappy with their increases can file with the county for mediation. They must pay a $10 fee within 10 days of receiving their increase notice if they want to enter mediation. If they pursue the mediation they are required to pay another $10 and their landlord must pay $50. A mediator will then conduct a maximum of two meetings. But the county-appointed intermediary can only suggest a compromise, which landlords may reject in favor of a higher increase.
Some tenants complained that they did not know about mediation, while others said it would not do any good.
"Mediation, frankly, is just a waste of time," Bob Galanti said. "It is not binding at all. The owners buy these buildings as an investment so you know damn good and well they are going to get whatever the market will bear."
John Farley, who supervises the mediation service, said there have been more than 220 inquiries about mediation, but only four applications from renters in the entire county. "I can only surmise that tenants do not think that mediation can help them significantly," Farley said.