Issues Impacting Rent Control in Santa Monica

Ellis Act

The Ellis Act is a state law that allows landlords to evict tenants without cause in order to go out of the rental business.  Ellis evictions cannot be done on a unit-by-unit basis; they can only apply to an entire rental property, which is why they are so dangerous to our rent controlled housing stock.  

In her first four years in the Rent Control Board, Nicole successfully requested that City Council fund a study of the Ellis Act, and in particular the interactions between zoning laws (how big and tall buildings can be, and what you can build in certain areas) affect Ellis activity.  We know that the biggest motivator for Ellis Act evictions is profit, so as the economy has recovered, we have seen a spike in Ellis Act evictions.

Nicole is currently working on efforts to request that City Council increase relocation benefits under the Ellis Act.  The last time the City Council addressed how to calculate relocation benefits was in 2011. With the uptick in Ellis Activity, the very least we can do is make sure tenants are being fairly compensated for their relocation costs.

Proposition 10 and Repeal of Costa-Hawkins Act

Nicole supports the repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Act through Proposition 10 which would restore local control of our rent control law to Santa Monica.  When Costa-Hawkins became effective in 1999, the state required rent controlled jurisdictions to provide vacancy decontrol -- that is, landlords could raise rents to whatever the market would bear when a tenant moves out.  Vacancy decontrol created perverse incentives for landlords to get long term rent controlled tenants out so that they can raise the rents, sometimes thousands of dollars more per month. Vacancy decontrol thus created a financial incentive for tenant harassment of our most vulnerable and senior residents.

Costa-Hawkins also prohibits subjecting buildings constructed after 1978 in Santa Monica to rent control.  If Costa-Hawkins is repealed, Nicole supports amending our rent control laws to permit aging buildings (20 years old or more) to be subjected to rent control.

Corporate Rentals

Santa Monica’s Rent Control law was designed to help tenants age in place.  But with the passage of Costa-Hawkins and vacancy decontrol, landlords have financial incentives to rent apartments out for shorter periods of time so that they can continually increase a rental unit to market.  While Nicole supports reasonable and fair home sharing and short term rental policy, corporate rental abuses in Santa Monica have depleted rent controlled housing stock, exacerbated the housing crisis for long term tenants, and converted many units into de facto hotels.  

Nicole has sponsored a regulatory amendment that would ban rentals of rent controlled units to corporations.  This ban is consistent with other rent control regulations that provide for certain rights when a tenant does not use a rent controlled unit as his or her permanent residence.  Nicole also supports changes to the municipal code, within the jurisdiction of City Council, to close loopholes for corporate rental abuses.

Passthroughs

Nicole initiated and sponsored key passthrough reform to stop exorbitant passthroughs from getting passed on to tenants.  As of April 2018, landlords may no longer passthrough bond fees to any new tenancies. For existing tenancies, passthroughs are capped at $35.  While tenants rightly share in some of the costs of bond measures they voted to pass, as part of our community commitment to excellent public schools and community colleges and clean beaches, this cap helps make sure that tenants are not overburdened with massive passthrough increases because a building has recently sold or undergone substantial renovations.

Tenant Harassment

Nicole worked on tenant harassment issues as both a lawmaker and a grassroots organizer.  As a Rent Control Board commissioner, Nicole provided testimony to City Council when they considered revisions to the tenant harassment law to help make it easier for tenants to prove intent when filing tenant harassment cases.  She also led calls for the City Attorney’s office to take on more tenant harassment cases where tenants were being harassed by landlords through gross negligence and refusals to repair units.

As an organizer, Nicole devoted many hours to fielding tenant calls on the SMRR hotline.  She also organized court watches for tenants wrongfully being subjected to eviction actions in an effort to harass tenants out of their units.

Owner Occupancy Exemptions and Landlord Transparency

Nicole also spearheaded efforts to require landlords with owner occupancy exemptions to provide annual re-certifications in order to maintain their exempt status.  The annual re-certification process identified many lapsed exemptions, returning the units in those buildings to standard rent control and restoring the annual rent increase protections to tenants.

Fiscal Responsibility

Nicole takes seriously her obligations as a public servant and has supported budgetary improvements to increase efficiency and decrease costs on the Board.