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CALABASAS : Rent Complaints to Be Investigated

The Calabasas City Council will look into complaints by tenants about recent hefty rents at a 600-unit apartment complex.

Tenants told city officials at a hearing Wednesday night that their landlord is gouging them to take advantage of a housing shortage created by the Jan. 17 earthquake.

Council members held the meeting at the urging of Anthony Pecoraro, a tenant at the Lincoln Malibu Meadows, 3831 N. Orchard Lane. He and other tenants who recently were hit with increases claim their rents are now well above market value.

The half-dozen or so apartment tenants at the meeting were joined by about a dozen tenants of a 210-unit mobile home park who are trying to block rent increases of 40%.

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Many renters want the council to establish rent control, but council members Wednesday balked at the idea. They said that in the case of Lincoln Malibu Meadows, it might make more sense for city officials to meet with the landlord to discuss the matter.

“I think we need to take a look at what is going on here,” said Councilman Marvin Lopata.

It could be, he said, that the units in the past have been rented at below market value and that the recent increases are an attempt by the landlord to bring rents up to where they should be.

Scott Morrison, regional property manager for the landlord, Lincoln Property Co. of Irvine, said Thursday he would be happy to meet with city officials. But he declined further comment.

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“I really can’t comment on that right now. I’m under legal advice not to,” he said. “But there is two sides to every story.”

Pecoraro said he and his wife moved to Calabasas from Sherman Oaks after their rent-controlled apartment was destroyed in the Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake. They signed a one-year lease for $1,055 a month for a two-bedroom apartment at the complex, which is south of the Ventura Freeway. It cost $210 a month more than their old place, he said, but the couple were desperate.

As their lease was about the expire, their new landlord offered them a choice: Sign an eight-month lease at an additional $45 a month or pay an additional $309 a month to continue on month-to-month basis. Other tenants reported being offered similar choices.

City Atty. Casey Vose urged the city to proceed with caution in attempting to resolve landlord-tenant disputes. He said that rent control, which should be used only as a last resort, is expensive to implement and often creates more problems than it solves.

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As an alternative, he said, the city should determine whether rents at the complex are above market value. If that turns out to be true, he said, the city could then intercede with the landlord, as “a spokesman” on behalf of the tenants.

Other options, Vose said, include filing a lawsuit against the landlord or pushing for state legislation protecting renters.

Council members in general oppose rent control, saying it leans too far in protecting tenants. They relate stories of landlords who, because of rent control, can’t afford to maintain their buildings and of wealthy tenants who live in rent-controlled units at rents well below market value.

Mayor Karyn Foley, who owns rental property outside the city, said being a landlord is often not as profitable as it is made out to be.

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“Some of us don’t have retirement funds, and some of us have lost our shirts” in the past when rents dropped due to a glut of rental property on the market, she said.

But the council members also said they favor taking strong measures to prevent landlords and others from gouging consumers in the wake of disasters.


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