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Chick Seeks to Cap Rent Hikes for Quake Repair : Housing: Proposal comes in response to tenants’ claims that landlords are imposing exorbitant increases.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tenants who are facing higher rents to pay for earthquake repair work may get a break under an ordinance proposed Tuesday by Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick.

Under the proposal, city housing officials would amend the city’s rent control laws to limit the rent increases that landlords can impose to pay for earthquake work.

Chick, who represents parts of the west San Fernando Valley, said the problem came to her attention in recent months as senior citizens in Woodland Hills began to complain about increases of up to $89 per month.

One of those senior citizens was Bea Lifshin, among about 400 renters in a Woodland Hills apartment building who have been told that they may face increases of between $15 and $89 more per month to pay for repairs on the building.

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With earthquake repair work, “the landlords don’t pay for anything and it’s put on the shoulders of renters,” she said.

Lifshin said her landlord is also trying to impose an additional rent increase to pay for other non-earthquake improvements and a 3% increase to keep up with inflation. She said she is not sure how much those increases may add up to.

“It hits everybody,” she said. “Salaries are not what they were in the past.”

The city’s rent control laws currently apply only to buildings built before 1978. Those building owners must get approval by the city’s Housing Department before they can pass increases on to tenants.

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The city’s rent laws allow landlords to pass on to tenants only 50% of the cost of normal improvements, such as a paint job or new landscaping. The rent control laws also impose limits on how much a landlord can raise rents to pay for seismic retrofitting work, such as reinforcing walls and foundations.

Chick and her staff learned only in the past few months, however, that the laws impose no limits on how much a landlord can raise rents to pay for disaster repair work.

“We were surprised to hear that there was a 100% pass-through and there were no caps,” said Ken Bernstein, Chick’s planning deputy.

He added that many landlords who have begun to raise rents have received interest-free earthquake repair loans from the city and are not required to make payments on the loans for up to three years.

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Chick’s proposal calls for a cap on rent increases, limiting landlords from charging the increases any longer than five or six years, and limiting how much of the total repair costs the landlord can pass on to tenants.

The council’s Housing and Community Redevelopment Committee is expected to consider the proposal early next month.

Chick’s proposal was not welcomed by everyone, however. William Shaw, president of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, a group of landlords, called it a “very, very poor idea.”

He said the vacancy rate in the city is 10% to 12%, and the housing industry is crippled due to over-regulation by the city. Shaw argued that the proposed limits may discourage landlords from making all the required repairs.

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“If there is anything they should allow landlords to pass on, it’s earthquake repairs,” he said. “No one is going to spend on a building if they are not going to get it back.”


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