Rent Control or Rent Stabilization

AUG17tenantsRenting in L.A. is about as enjoyable as having a third job -- which many renters have, spending nearly half their monthly income on rent. As neighborhoods gentrify from Venice to Highland Park, the city’s rental market is intensifying, prompting rising prices and rising pressures. Renters compete to lease units they can barely afford. Meanwhile, landlords and developers think the windfall is here and it’s time to cash out big. All of a sudden, renting Angelenos feel more vulnerable. If you haven’t received a surprise notice on the door that turned your world upside down, surely you know someone who has. 

Rather than fanning the flames of paranoia, now is the perfect time for level-headed review of the rules of the game, and by that we mean the laws and protections in place for the city’s renters. Education is core to our work in the L.A. Tenants Union. We run workshops to teach renters about existing rights that may be unfamiliar, and open conversations about new rights that renters should demand in the future. Let’s start with rent control.

RENT CONTROL or RENT STABILIZATION

Few topics bring out one’s inner economics professor faster than rent control, but before this spirals into a policy debate, let’s be clear: The City of L.A. does not have rent control. There are no limits on how much an apartment here can cost unlike rent-controlled units in other cities. Instead, L.A. has the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO).

What’s the difference? Rent stabilization means that there are city-determined limits on how much your rent can increase while you are renting. Someone living in an RSO unit in L.A. can only have their rent increased 3–5% annually, from $1,000 to $1,030–$1,050 (depending on if the landlord pays utilities). But there are no limits on how much your unit might cost once it’s been voluntarily vacated.  Rent control would instead have a maximum from the city that caps that cost.

Say your neighbor has been paying $1,000 per month, but they decide to move out. Your landlord notices the cool shops opening nearby and decides the market will allow for way higher rent. He can raise that unit to $2,000, $4,000, or however much a month he wants to gamble—RSO doesn’t affect this. Renters’ advocates say this is a major factor in causing gentrification and displacement—once that unit’s rent shoots up, it’s not likely to go down.

How do you know if your unit is covered under RSO? Well first, the landlord is legally obligated to post a notice from the Housing and Community Investment and Development LA (HCIDLA)  in a public place.  This provides contact information for tenants if they have any issues or concerns.  Second if you rent in a multiunit building that had its Certificate of Occupancy issued before October 1, 1978, your building falls under RSO. Dingbat (2 floor apartments from 50's and 60's)? Under RSO. Courtyard apartments from 1936? Under RSO. 1905 warehouse converted to apartments in 2008? Not under RSO. Complex built in 1985? Probably not under RSO. To be sure, search your address on the city’s zoning information site, zimas.lacity.org. If your building comes up as under RSO and your rent just went up 15%, that’s illegal.

1978 is the cutoff because that’s when this ordinance was approved. It has not been expanded to include buildings from afterward, and there are state laws like Costa-Hawkins which prohibit our city’s ability to modify that cutoff.

If your building is not under RSO, the unpleasant fact is that you have fewer protections. Rent increases will depend on the type of lease you have (thirty-day, six-month, one-year). Rent cannot increase during that term—at the end of the term, your landlord is free to charge as much as they like, though law requires advance written notice. 

Rent increases cannot be retaliatory or discriminatory, and landlords must give thirty-day notice for increases up to 10% of the previous rent charged at any time in the past year, and sixty-day notice if greater than 10%. That means that if you come home tomorrow and there’s a notice on your door that your rent is going up 40% in sixty days, it’s likely a legal increase and your only option may be negotiation or action. Boyle Heights renters recently came home to $800 per month increases. Their only option was to organize. This is the reality for many Angelenos, and just one reason why the Tenants Union pushes to expand the number of buildings protected by RSO.

Beyond protection from unfair rent hikes, RSO’s other major job is to limit the reasons for eviction. We’ll cover that in our next column.



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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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