Landlords Slow in Obeying Rent Law

Times Staff Writer

Still angered by West Hollywood's strong new rent control law, hundreds of landlords are ignoring the city's drive to register apartment units, rent control officials said last week.

Rent control coordinator Adam Moos said the refusal to cooperate is tantamount to a boycott and warned that landlords who registered late would be subject to stiff penalties. "The bottom line is that it will be tough on landlords if they don't register properly," he said.

City officials consider registration of the city's 20,000 apartment units a key component of the rent law because rent control administrators will need information on file to enforce strict maintenance standards and resolve tenant-landlord disputes.

Moos said he had hoped that 50% of the city's 4,000 landlords would have registered by this week, but only 400 have.

Bitterness Cited

Landlord organizers denied that there was any organized boycott, insisting that apartment owners were simply waiting until the last minute because of their lingering bitterness about the rent law. The organizers also said many apartment owners wanted to attend seminars about the law conducted by landlord advocates.

"I realize that the rent control administration would like to smooth out its workload," said Grafton Tanquary, who heads West Hollywood Concerned Citizens, a landlord-dominated civic group. "But we're not a bunch of sheep. They have to expect some kind of protest."

Moos predicted that his rent control staff "will be swamped with work" if the majority of the landlords wait until the last days of the registration period to send in their forms or appear at the temporary rent control administration office in Plummer Park (the period ends Sept. 16).

"They're trying to jam us up, just like they did in Santa Monica," he said, referring to a spontaneous movement by Santa Monica landlords, who flooded that city's rent control administration with protests shortly after its rent law was passed in 1979.

Multiple Penalties Proposed

Moos warned landlords that under legislation expected to be approved by the City Council, landlords who register late or fail to fill out mandatory registration forms accurately and completely by the filing deadline could be subject to a penalty of $48 per apartment unit.

In addition, Moos said, landlords would be liable for a $48 annual city registration fee that otherwise would be paid by tenants. And landlords would have to wait 60 days before being allowed to ask tenants for this year's 3% rent increase. Moos added that landlords who continued to refuse to register could face prosecution by the city attorney.

"They're only hurting themselves by playing these games," Moos said.

Tanquary and other landlord leaders said they expect most apartment owners to file properly by the deadline. "We've told our people to follow the law," Tanquary said. "But there's nothing to prevent them from waiting until the last minute. People do it with income taxes all the time."

Want to Understand Law

Sol Genuth, a spokesman for the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, said many apartment owners are holding off on registering to attend seminars on the rent law sponsored by his association. "Many of our members don't even speak English," he said. "You can't expect them to go before the rent control staff without knowing what they have to do."

With registration a growing concern, the city's rent control administrators have also been increasingly involved in landlord-tenant disputes in recent weeks. Moos said his office has handled between 50 and 75 disputes since the law was passed in late June.

Some cases have been settled in meetings administered by City Atty. Michael Jenkins. According to Jenkins, a few cases nearly led the city to file criminal charges against landlords. And at least one case might soon end up in the courts, he said.

Although West Hollywood will eventually set up a rent control hearing process, an appeals board has yet to be selected. For the duration, city officials believe tenants and landlords involved in disputes are receiving proper treatment. "Our hearing examiners aren't functioning yet, but the ordinance does contain proper remedies, both civil and criminal," Jenkins said.

Treatment Questioned

But landlords contend that in at least one case, an apartment owner received questionable treatment from city officials. Albert Korngute, an apartment owner and official of West Hollywood Concerned Citizens, said he received a letter this month from a city rent counselor who warned that rents could be reduced in Korngute's 75-unit apartment building on Kings Road if he did not provide proper air conditioning to tenants. Korngute and Tanquary complained that the counselor, Joe Brewster, had no right to threaten the rent reduction.

But Jenkins replied that Brewster had the authority to discuss the reduction. "It think it's within the scope of a counselor's job to advise people of possible remedies that can be enforced against them," Jenkins said.

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