City Council Approves Added Renter Protections To Limit Rising Evictions

January 25, 2024 ·

SANTA MONICA—On Tuesday, January 23, the Santa Monica City Council approved a slate of added protections for renters, including prohibitions against drastic rent increases, unjust evictions and harassment.

According to a press release from the city of Santa Monica, the added protections are in response to a regional increase in eviction filings resulting from the expiration of COVID-related protections, in addition to the current housing crisis. Amendments will be made to the Tenant Protection Code, Housing Anti-Discrimination Code, Tenant Relocation Code, Tenant Harassment Code and Tenant Buyout Agreements Code.

“These amendments further solidify protections for the city’s renters — approximately 70 percent of Santa Monica residents — and create greater housing stability, in alignment with the city’s strategic priorities of Addressing Homelessness and Justice, Equity & Diversity,” reads the press release.

“Renters make up the majority of our Santa Monica community, and many have called this city home for years,” said Mayor Phil Brock. “It is critically important that families who make up the fabric of our city have the ability to stay here.”

The approved amendments will go into effect 30 days after the second reading of the ordinances, which will take place at the meeting scheduled for February 13.

Approved amendments include:

Financial assistance for constructive evictions: amendments to the Tenant Relocation Code will add five additional grounds under which tenants can receive permanent relocation financial assistance, including if:

-their housing is not covered under state or local law on excessive rent increases and their landlord imposes an increase of more than five percent plus inflation, or ten percent, whichever is lower;
-they are forced to move because their living situation is not tenable, including if they’ve been displaced for six months or more or if a building official orders relocation because the housing is unhabitable.

Protections against excessive rent increases: an amendment to the Tenant Protection Code would bar landlords from imposing excessive rent increases that substantially exceed the market rate, a tactic sometimes used to influence tenants to move out, in effect circumventing the requirement for the landlord to have just cause for eviction.

Further strengthening anti-discrimination rules: amendments to the Housing Anti-Discrimination Code will prohibit discrimination based on housing status and bar landlords from refusing to make basic repairs required by the Santa Monica Housing Authority to participate in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.

Added protections from harassment: amendments to the Tenant Harassment Code to clarify and expand the types of actions that constitute harassment, including:
-changing locks and doors to evict a tenant
-refusing to accept rent payments
-imposing excessive or unlawful rent increases and
-retaliation against a tenant for reporting a violation

The amendments also outline examples of prohibited coercion and intimidation, including:

-refusing to cooperate with a tenant’s request to lawfully replace an occupant who has moved out
-repeatedly offering to buy a tenant out after having been informed the tenant does not want to be bought out

The amendments increase the maximum penalty for harassment from $10,000 to $20,000 per violation.

Extending protections to tenants in non-rent-controlled units: amendments include extending buyout agreement protections to tenants in non-rent-controlled multi-family housing subject to local just cause eviction protections. Any buyout agreement — when a tenant agrees to move out of their unit in exchange for money or a waiver of rent — must be for at least the amount required by the Tenant Relocation Code, and the new rules allow tenants to cite a landlord’s failure to file a buyout agreement with the city as a defense against an eviction.

The Santa Monica City Council informed staff, in consultation with the city’s Rent Control Board, to draft a charter amendment for the voters that would prohibit evictions for tenants with small rental debts and evictions based on a tenant making authorized alterations to their unit without a city permit.

For more information, review the staff report or view the council discussion.

By Trevor

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