Faced with swelling opposition from apartment owners, the City Council has dashed a bid for a law that would prohibit landlords from evicting elderly and disabled renters without a justified cause.
The council voted 6 to 1 Tuesday to reject the proposed just-cause eviction ordinance, which backers contend is needed to protect the rights of aged or physically handicapped tenants.
"Private enterprise is a marvelous system but it does need a referee," said Councilman Wallace Edgerton, the lone supporter of the ordinance. "We have not yet learned the responsibility of helping and protecting our own."
About 350 people, divided almost equally between supporters and opponents of the measure, packed into City Hall to watch the council tackle the proposal.
It was a one-sided battle for the most part. Even Edgerton acknowledged at the start of the discussion that the proposal probably lacked the votes for approval.
Redress at Ballot Box
The councilman noted, however, that the debate would clarify for backers of the legislation "whether the opportunity for redress is here at City Hall or at the ballot boxes."
Supporters of the ordinance said the council's action had done just that.
"There doesn't seem to be any hope that the council is going to pass any renters' legislation in the near future," said Sid Solomon, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, a 580-member coalition that pushed for the law. "If we're going to do anything, we're going to have to go to a ballot initiative."
Because of the logistical headaches of mounting a citywide initiative drive, the group will probably push for a full-scale rent control law instead of just restrictions on evictions of the disabled and elderly, Solomon said.
Such an effort probably would wait until 1988 because members of the group "haven't gotten ourselves in gear" for the ballot push, he said. In the meantime, Solomon expressed hope that the council's action on Tuesday would help prompt the defeat of incumbents in the upcoming April council races.
"We're very, very disappointed that we could only get one vote for this," he said. "Maybe we didn't expect to win, but we hoped to have more than one vote."
Bid for Rent Control Failed
In 1979, Long Beach Area Citizens Involved led an unsuccessful campaign for rent control. The issue was put on the ballot as an advisory measure but was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin.
Prior to Tuesday's meeting, landlords had expressed concern that a just-cause eviction law would merely be a precursor to a broader bid for rent control in Long Beach.
But on Tuesday, the dozens of landlords who crowded into City Hall did not mention rent control. Instead, they focused their attack on the just-cause eviction law, which they said would restrict their property rights and send a growing number of eviction cases to court.
"We're in the business of renting our units, not evicting," said John A. Williams, president of the Apartment Assn., California Southern Cities, which represents about 4,000 landlords in southern Los Angeles County. "This would be costly, cumbersome and eventually become a political nightmare."
The ordinance would have allowed landlords to evict elderly or disabled tenants only for a justifiable reason such as non-payment or rent, disturbing the peace of other tenants, violation of lease agreements or destruction of property.
If a tenant challenged in court, the burden of proving a justified cause for the eviction would fall on the landlord. If the landlord lost, the tenant would be allowed to stay in the unit and collect monetary damages.
Measures to Oust Tenants
Finally, the ordinance would have prohibited the landlord from raising rents or other charges in an effort to oust an elderly or disabled tenant.
While supporters of the ordinance said it posed no threat to apartment owners, landlords saw it differently.
Ann Morgan, who owns several apartments in Long Beach, noted that there is "always a bad egg in the basket," even among the elderly and disabled, and said the proposed law would unfairly restrict landlords from booting such tenants.
Carlos Galindo, executive vice president of the Apartment Assn., California Southern Cities, questioned the need for the law, saying it could potentially create loopholes for bad tenants.
"If I want to push drugs, all I have to do is have my mother-in-law, who is over 70, move in," Galindo said.
But supporters of the proposal said the restrictions, in particular a stipulation that elderly and disabled tenants be given a 90-day eviction notice instead of the traditional 30 days to vacate, are needed because such renters have a more difficult time finding new housing.
"For elderly people, to move can be really quite traumatic," said Margaret Blair, president of the local Gray Panthers chapter.
Protection for Rights
Blair and other supporters stressed that the law had clauses that would protect the rights of landlords to evict bad tenants, but the council remained unconvinced.
Councilman Thomas Clark said there was little need for the law, modeled after legislation that was narrowly defeated in the state Assembly in January, because most landlords "are very fair."
"In the long term I think everyone will be much better off without regulations," Clark said, adding that in "any industry there are instances of abuse."
Councilwoman Eunice Sato said restrictions on the landlords would make it less economically attractive to build and run apartment houses in Long Beach, reducing the housing stock for all renters.
"It would be discriminatory to the people who we're trying to help--the disabled and senior citizens," Sato said. "It's like cutting off your nose to spite your face."