Los Angeles City Council members are pushing for emergency provisions against evictions and large rent increases amid concerns landlords are aiming to remove their tenants before a new state law takes effect in January.
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents neighborhoods from Echo Park to Atwater Village, said the city must act to prevent a spate of evictions that could force out tenants prior to a statewide cap on annual rent increases going into effect.
“We just want to make sure that there’s not price gouging by predatory landlords,” O’Farrell said. “We know that that could very well happen.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1482, which limits annual rent increases across the state to 5% plus inflation for the next decade. The legislation also prevents tenants from being evicted without documented lease violations once they’ve lived in an apartment for a year. The law exempts apartments built within the last 15 years and single-family home rentals unless they’re owned by corporate investors.
The law, however, doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1. In the meantime, landlords can still remove tenants without cause as long as the notice to vacate expires before that time.
Earlier this month, prominent attorney Dennis Block spoke at a trade group of Los Angeles-area landlords, advising them to evict tenants paying below-market rents prior to the law taking effect.
Rene Christian Moya, director of the Housing Is A Human Right advocacy group, said his organization has heard from tenants who have received eviction notices in nearly 200 apartments in half a dozen complexes across the city. Some of the notices, Moya said, explicitly mention the new state law as the reason for the eviction.
“We think this is very, very urgent to prevent thousands of people literally becoming homeless in the next couple months,” Moya told the Los Angeles City Council on Friday.
Council members introduced multiple emergency measures on Friday. Under one, authored by O’Farrell and Councilman Curren Price, landlords would not be allowed to issue no-fault evictions on the properties covered by the new state law. A second by Councilwoman Nury Martinez would limit rent increases to what is allowable when the cap takes effect in January.
The council must vote on the measures twice, and O’Farrell is hoping to receive final approval for his emergency proposal no later than the end of next week. O’Farrell, said he is aiming to make the eviction moratorium retroactive to when the governor signed the bill.
At an event earlier this week in Los Angeles, the rent cap’s author, Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), said he was concerned about evictions occurring prior to the law taking effect, but couldn’t figure out how to make the anti-eviction provisions in the law apply before 2020.
“If you want to be greedy, you can continue to do what unfortunately some landlords have been doing, which is in part why we’re in the situation we’re in right now,” Chiu said.
Once the law takes effect in January, landlords will be required to roll back any rent hike to what tenants paid in March 2019 plus the allowable increase of 5% plus inflation — 8.3% in Los Angeles this year — under the cap.
But until January, landlords remain able to increase rents in excess of the cap. Tenant activists are worrying that such large rent increases continue to provide a backdoor means of evicting renters even if the city’s emergency anti-eviction ordinance passes.
Diana Castellanos, who lives in South Los Angeles, told the City Council on Friday that her landlord increased the rent on her two-bedroom apartment in April from $800 to $1,500 and now is planning to raise it to $2,400 next month.
“We’re asking for help because there’s no way that we can pay these prices,” Castellanos said.
Martinez’s proposal aims to address that concern.
“Our goal is to protect renters from rent gouging and getting thrown out into the streets and we need to look for any and all options on how to do that now and in the future,” Martinez said in a statement.
There are some questions about how far City Council members might be allowed to go in addressing rent hikes. Though Martinez’s effort aims to halt large rent increases, O’Farrell said his proposal would not because doing so would violate state law. The Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act prevents cities and counties from limiting rent hikes on buildings constructed after a certain date, which is October 1978 in Los Angeles.
“We need to exert more local control on the universe of predatory landlords,” O’Farrell said.