Long Beach gives ini­tial OK to land­lord law

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Ben Welsh ben.welsh@la­times.com

The Long Beach City Coun­cil gave pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval Tues­day to a con­tro­ver­sial plan that in­creases penal­ties for land­lords who fail to prop­erly main­tain their rental prop­er­ties but falls short of what ten­ant ac­tivists say is needed.

The 9-0 vote fol­lowed sev­eral hours of de­bate on a draft or­di­nance pre­pared by city staff that would boost fines for hous­ing code vi­ola- tions found at rental units and ex­pand ef­forts to ed­u­cate ten­ants about their rights. Ren­ter ad­vo­cates op­posed the pro­posal, say­ing that it would not do enough to crack down on the worst land­lords.

With dozens of ten­ants in match­ing T-shirts and prop­erty own­ers in the au­di­ence, coun­cil mem­bers amended the mea­sure to in­crease the pro­posed penal­ties for land­lords. They also in­structed city of­fi­cials to uti­lize a staterun pro­gram that re­stricts in­come tax de­duc­tions by prop­erty own­ers who fail to cor­rect hous­ing code vi­o­la­tions.

“It’s a step in the right di­rec­tion,” Coun­cil­woman Lena Gon­za­lez said. “There is no easy fix for a prob­lem so enor­mous.”

The coun­cil re­jected de­mands from ren­ter groups who want the city to adopt an en­force­ment model, sim­i­lar to one used in Los An­ge­les, that al­lows of­fi­cials to tem­po­rar­ily seize rent pay­ments when land­lords fail to make re­quired re­pairs.

Coun­cil­women Suzie Price said the Los An­ge­les pro­gram “is not fis­cally or legally fea­si­ble.”

The coun­cil ac­tion fol­lowed a Times story Tues­day re­port­ing that un­safe con­di­tions can go un­de­tected by Long Beach rental hous­ing in­spec­tors for months or even years and that the city’s over­sight ef­fort is less ag­gres­sive than those of some other large mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Coun­cil mem­bers, cit­ing the story, called for staff to report on the fea­si­bil­ity of up­grad­ing the in­spec­tion pro­gram to reg­u­larly in­clude more rentals.

Cur­rently, in­spec­tors only ini­ti­ate pe­ri­odic vis­its to prop­er­ties with four or more units.

At smaller build­ings and du­plexes, in­spec­tions are only con­ducted in re­sponse to com­plaints.

Dur­ing Tues­day night’s coun­cil meet­ing, ten­ants called for ad­di­tional ren­ter pro­tec­tions to be added to the or­di­nance be­fore the coun­cil gives its fi­nal ap­proval.

“This sup­pos­edly new pro­gram falls way short of what res­i­dents re­ally need,” said Jorge Rivera, an or­ga­nizer with Hous­ing Long Beach, a renters group. “It is sim­ply not good enough.”

Land­lords sup­ported the law­mak­ers’ ac­tion Tues­day.

“The pro­posed or­di­nance is a bal­anced work prod­uct in the best in­ter­est of the city,” said Paul Bon­ner, pres­i­dent of the Apart­ment Assn., Cal­i­for­nia South­ern Cities.

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