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Woo Would Put Many Single-Family Homes Under Rent Control

Times Staff Writer

Pushed by tenant groups and the shrinking effectiveness of the city’s rent stabilization ordinance, Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo on Thursday proposed sweeping changes in the city’s rent control ordinance, including a move to make 200,000 single-family homes subject to the law.

The 13-point plan, scheduled to be introduced in the City Council today, would tighten many of the rules, establish a city-sponsored deposit guarantee program to help low-income renters and expand rent controls in low-income neighborhoods on the East Side and in South-Central Los Angeles, where much of the rental housing stock consists of single-family homes. The controls currently apply only to housing of two or more units.

“These changes will protect the people who need rent control most: senior citizens and growing numbers of poor families who are one step away from homelessness,” Woo said.

But the plan was immediately hit by both landlords and some rent control advocates who saw it as both too much and too little.

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Critics charged that the plan places too many burdens on landlords of small buildings, and some provisions, they said, would have the effect of reducing the city’s small stock of affordable housing.

Advocates of rent control, including Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival, said the plan does not deal with what he sees as the biggest failing of the current law--the right of landlords to raise rents as high as the market will bear when apartments are voluntarily vacated. Once a new tenant moves in, the controls are reinstated but with the new, marketplace-set rent as the base figure for that particular apartment. About 80% of the city’s apartments have been “decontrolled” at one time or another during the last 10 years under the provision, according to a city report.

Woo acknowledged that his proposals will face opposition and revision by other members of the City Council.

“I expect the hearings are going to be very heated,” he said.

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If adopted in their current form, the proposals represent the biggest changes in rent control since the city enacted its rent stabilization ordinance in 1978.

Was Due for Review

The city’s existing rent control ordinance, overseen by Woo’s Governmental Operations Committee, was to have been reviewed during 1988, the 10-year anniversary of the law. Gross charged that the process has stalled after some initial hearings last summer.

Woo’s proposals would limit rent increases for additional occupants in a rental unit, double relocation benefits to a maximum of $10,000 per family and make information about rent control available in several languages.

He also called for a requirement that landlords pay tenants interest on security deposits and for a provision that would restrict the ability of landlords to pass through to tenants the costs of improvements.

Furthermore, the proposals would eliminate evictions under the controversial “substantial renovation” provision of the existing law. That provision allows landlords to avoid rent controls if they do more than $10,000 in improvements to an apartment, regardless of the nature of the work.

Perhaps the most sweeping of the proposals is the plan to include single-family homes. That would increase the number of units under rent control to 685,000 from the current 485,000.

Extends Protection

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While Woo said he does not have any evidence of rent gouging or other abuses by owners of single-family rental units, he said that they should be included under the law to extend the protections of rent control to all areas of the city.

“Rent control is not intended to be solely a white, middle-class phenomenon,” he said. “Why is it that the Hispanic and black renters in the city aren’t getting the same protection?”

Woo said that most rent-controlled apartments, generally those built before 1978, are in the Hollywood, mid-Wilshire and Fairfax districts--areas that Woo described as white, middle-class neighborhoods. Most renters in poor neighborhoods such as South-Central and East Los Angeles, however, live in rented houses, he added.


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