Getting Rent Complaint Under Control

Times Staff Writer

Question: This is a two-part question about rent control. I moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Park La Brea in July, 1984. The rent was $600 a month. In July, 1985, the rent went up 7%; in July of '86, another 5%, and in July of this year it will go up another 4%.

Question 1 is: If the inflation rate for 1986 was only 1.3%, or thereabouts, why will my rent go up 4%?

In addition to the 7%, 5%, 4% and so forth, I am charged an additional 1% (7% + 1%, 5% + 1%) because gas is furnished.

Question 2 is: At this rate of increase, how much am I really paying for gas for a one-bedroom apartment that rarely needs to have the heat turned on?

If this has been going on for, say, 10 years, that (1%) increase really adds up. I must be paying $50 to $70 a month for gas alone--if you follow my meaning. I owned a three-bedroom home in Mar Vista for 20 years, heated by gas. The bill was rarely more than $10 a month.

Who makes these decisions for the amount of increase and on what are they based? Don't tell me to contact the rent control board or a councilman's office. I already did and could get no answers.--R.B.

Answer: Against the confusing background of rent control, misunderstanding stands out in bold relief.

Yes, the maximum allowable rent increase is, indeed, tied to the cost of living, Barbara Zeidman, director of Los Angeles' rent stabilization program, concedes--that's the way it's written in the law. But the cost of living that is used in determining rent increases is the figure prevailing in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area, not the national figure, which is invariably lower.

"We have to face it: We live in a high-cost-of-living area," Zeidman adds. Thus, while the national figure may, sure enough, be in the 1%-to-2% range, that's not the actual cost of living in Tinsel Town, the home of the $2 glass of Perrier.

"We round out the figure in arriving at the maximum allowable rent," Zeidman adds. "It's bad enough trying to make it understandable to people without getting into decimals. Last year, for instance, the actual cost-of-living increase was 4.6%, which was rounded out to 5%. The maximum that goes into effect this coming July--4%--reflects an actual increase of 4.3% in the cost of living."

Yes, Zeidman admits, the allowable add-on for utilities paid by the landlord (1% of the monthly rent for gas and another 1% for electricity) works to your disadvantage, "because he lives in a relatively high-rent apartment. Most Los Angeles apartments are rented without utilities."

But while the logic of your argument has merit (that the annual add-on of the gas surcharge is working to your disadvantage), it's going to take a while before you're paying "$50 to $70 a month for gas alone."

True, your gross monthly charge for gas service since you've been in your apartment has gone from $6 to $7.28 a month--an increase that averages about 42 1/2 cents a year, and if it continues at that rate during the next 10 years, you'll be paying roughly $19 a month for your gas service at the end of that time. Admittedly, that's a bit steep for a one-bedroom apartment, but it's a bit short of your $50-to-$70-a-month estimate.

Q: Suppose a lucky person wins a very large amount in the state lottery, which is payable over 20 years, and that person dies before the total winnings have been collected. What happens to the balance due?

The envelopes in which the non-winning tickets are mailed to Sacramento for the Second Chance drawing specify that certain information be included--Sacramento wants to know the date of birth of the sender. I'd like to know why that statistic is so important to the Lottery Commission. Obviously, it has some significance, but just why is a person's birth date so important to the Big Spin drawing?--B.F.

A: If you think the Lottery Commission is being nosy in accepting your entry for the Big Spin, wait until you see the form they give you when you actually win a big one! They have questions concerning not only, yes, definitely age (since that will determine the size of the annuity that the state will have to buy to pay you off), but also sex, education, race and on and on. A good many of these are voluntary questions, but some--including age, full name, address, Social Security number--are a must for tax purposes.

It's not, however, a matter of pure nosiness, according to Bob Taylor, the Lottery Commission's communications manager, but a matter of getting a handle on the lottery to make sure that it is appealing--as much as anything can--to the right mix of California's diversified population. If, suddenly, one game is getting a lopsided number of entries from a young age group, then it raises the question: What is it about this particular game that's turning off the older players?

The goal is to keep the percentage of entrants roughly in line with the same percentages prevailing nationally in the same age groups. For instance, Taylor said, about 23% of the players in the Big Spin are 30 to 39 years old (about the same breakdown as in the general population). Those 40 to 49 years make up 22.7% of the spinners (versus 15.2% of the general population). Those 50 to 59 years make up 19.4% of the spinners (versus 12.2% of the general population making up that age group), but the balance snaps back in place with those 60 to 69. Spinners in that age group make up 10.5% of all finalists and 11.3% of the total population, nationally, is in that age group.

What happens if you don't live long enough to collect all your winnings? The balance goes to your heir or heirs--not back into the pot.

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