Santa Monica Rent Plan Sent to Board

Santa Monica Mayor Dennis Zane's proposed ballot measure to ease the city's rent-control law was sent by the City Council this week to the Rent Control Board for its recommendations.

Zane's proposal, aimed at stemming the city's rental housing losses, is designed to make the rental business more profitable and encourage landlords to keep their units on the market. It stops short of the full decontrol of rents when units are voluntarily vacated, a change that many landlords insist is needed.

The measure would allow rents on vacant one-bedroom units to rise to between $475 and $525 a month. On two-bedroom units, rents could rise to between $600 and $675 a month. City officials said the current average rent of units being removed from the market is $355 a month.

In the case of units where rents already are at or above the proposed maximums, landlords would be permitted to raise the rent by 10% to 20% every two to four years. In exchange for being allowed to increase rents, however, landlords would have to agree to keep their rental units on the market for at least 10 years.

Zane said his proposal represents an effort to find a balance between what he calls the "twin terrors" of the state Ellis Act, which establishes procedures under which landlords can evict tenants and quit the rental business, and a proposed initiative backed by landlords that would end rent control for units that are voluntarily vacated.

Landlords, long critical of the city's tough rent-control policies, have used the Ellis Act to remove 1,000 units from the city's rental market since 1986.

A competing ballot proposal by Councilman Herb Katz will also go to the rent board for recommendations. It calls for an end to rent controls upon voluntary vacancies with a catch--landlords who charge $1,000 a month or more for rent would be required to donate 20% of the rent to a city fund for low- and middle-income residents.

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