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L.A. County launches study of tenant rights to establish stability

City News Service | 5/18/2017, midnight
The Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to explore policies aimed at expanding affordable housing options and protecting renters, calling ...

The Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to explore policies aimed at expanding affordable housing options and protecting renters, calling it “part and parcel” of the fight against homelessness.

Supervisor Hilda Solis recommended the study.

“Countless residents in the unincorporated areas of my district have experienced skyrocketing rental rates in their neighborhoods,” she said. “We need more tools to secure housing stability for the most vulnerable county residents.”

The work will begin with a survey of rental housing stock; relevant laws and regulations; and best practices designed to protect rental rates, tenant tenure, habitability and freedom from discrimination.

“There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Solis said, but responded to complaints from landlord associations by saying, “We’re not talking about rent control.”

Advocates said tenant protections stabilize families and communities.

“Protecting tenants is an effective homelessness prevention strategy,” Antonio Hicks of the pro bono law firm Public Counsel told the board.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion, said despite all the county’s success in finding homes for homeless individuals, “It’s like trying to bail out a boat. When you see the new homeless count, you won’t think we housed anybody.”

Landlords and real estate agents countered that the high cost of housing was driven a lack of supply and called for the county to streamline approvals and deregulate development.

“Nothing is going to solve the problem other than development,” said Rick Otterstrom, director and past president of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.

Otterstrom urged the board to include members of AAGLA and Realtor groups on a task force that will be established as a second phase of the work.

Implementing new policies and advocating for necessary legislative changes could be costly, but the motion offers a solution.

“There need be little or no cost to the county general fund if administrative costs are recovered through a small per-unit fee paid by landlords,” it states.

That suggestion, which was not part of the board’s vote, also prompted landlords to push back.

“Grocery stores aren’t responsible for people starving and landlords aren’t responsible for homelessness,” said Pamela Lawrence, who described herself as a “mom-and-pop” operator. “Please, build more housing. Don’t penalize those of us who already provide it.”

Kuehl said supply is actually booming, but at prices few other than those “who are working for Google and Snapchat” can afford.

“What we really need is affordable housing,” something private developers aren’t building, she said.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she was particularly concerned about commercial properties for lease, which are included in the scope of the study. She asked that the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation be enlisted to offer input on the initial survey work.

A report back is expected in 90 days, at which time a task force will be set up to develop recommendations.