Council OKs Help for Drug Users, Tenants

Times Staff Writer

After a night of electioneering, a bleary-eyed Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved an ordinance that prevents landlords from evicting rent-control tenants after major renovations and another that allows adult drug users and others to buy syringes without a prescription.

One of Los Angeles’ long-standing housing problems is that the city has a large number of apartments -- particularly in poor neighborhoods -- that are in very run-down condition. Many are rent-controlled.

In the past, city law allowed landlords to renovate units and then steeply raise the rent. Housing advocates complained that landlords were using renovations as a way to get rid of rent-control tenants, a big problem in a city with about 530,000 rent-controlled units.


Some landlords were using major repairs to harass tenants into leaving, said Brett Terrell, director of advocacy for the Inner City Law Center.

“We’ve had cases where landlords literally tore roofs off buildings during the rainy season,” he said.

A moratorium stopped the combination of renovations and rent hikes three years ago. Under the ordinance passed by a 12-0 vote Wednesday, landlords who perform renovations can increase the rent a maximum of 10% to pay for it.

“This is something that will be implemented by landlords and felt by tenants, and if it fails, shame on us,” said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who helped shepherd the ordinance through.

Landlords in the city have long complained that rent control spares them little money to make repairs. Nonetheless, many of them supported the ordinance as a means to recoup some costs.

“There are buildings out there that really need to be rehabbed, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to get it done,” said Tara Bannister, executive director of the California Apartment Assn., which represents building owners in the city.


The ability to obtain syringes without a prescription has been long sought by health advocates who say it will help reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis through the use of dirty needles by drug users.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill last fall making syringe sales legal, but each city must also approve it before pharmacies can start selling them

The ordinance, which allows over-the-counter sales to those 18 and over, passed the council by a 12-0 vote but still must be signed by Mayor James K. Hahn. Pharmacies could choose whether to sell the syringes. Among the large chains, Walgreens has said it will do so.

The city currently pays about $500,000 each year to support seven needle exchange programs in Los Angeles. The new measure is seen as another way to reach out to drug users who won’t use the exchanges.