When West Hollywood City Atty. Michael Jenkins handed in his latest draft of the city's proposed rent control law early last week, the bulky ordinance filled 42 pages.
"All those pages are double-spaced," Jenkins later said, explaining the measure's heft. "It would be a lot more compact if we kept it single-spaced."
Whatever the spacing, the city's long-awaited rent control proposal is acknowledged by both supporters and detractors to be among the most detailed rent codes in the nation. The culmination of more than two months of exhaustive research, volatile public hearings and marathon council debates, the proposal has evolved into a document that reaches into some of the most minute facets of landlord-tenant relations.
"The law reflects the council's effort to be fair to everyone and take into account as many situations that could possibly arise," said Councilman John Heilman. "It's complex and it's detailed, but I don't think too many rent control laws have had as much deliberation as we've given to ours."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 20, 1985 Home Edition Westside Part 9 Page 5 Column 3 Zones Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Because of an editing error in Sunday's Westside section, a story incorrectly stated when the West Hollywood City Council will discuss its rent control law. The council session will be June 27.
The measure, expected to be approved at the council's next meeting May 27 and go into effect immediately, may still undergo further changes in language. But the major provisions have now solidified into a law that apparently satisfies the desires of a tenant-strong community where more than 85% of the inhabitants are renters.
Council members portray the proposal as a creature of compromise, designed to provide strong rent control protections while not destroying landlords' financial incentives. Tenant activists say they are satisfied with the proposal, with some reservations; landlord organizers, who see little evidence of compromise, say it will bring perpetual conflict between apartment owners and the city.
The measure's most controversial section would limit rent rises when apartments are vacated by tenants. Landlords would be allowed to raise rents by 10% after a vacancy, but not more than once every two years.
To the council members who crafted the limited vacancy decontrol, the 10% cap is an attempt to find a shade of compromise on an issue normally dealt in black-and-white terms. Santa Monica, for example, has full vacancy controls, allowing vacancy rent increases only when landlords upgrade apartments. At the other end of the spectrum, Los Angeles allows landlords to raise rents as much as they want after an apartment is vacated.
"Most cities either have total controls on vacancies or have no controls at all," said Ken Baar, a rent control expert who has been advising the West Hollywood council on its law. "West Hollywood is trying to find a place somewhere in between."
For landlords, the cap on vacancy decontrols is far too restrictive. "By doing this, the council in effect prevents owners from renting at market value," said Grafton Tanquary, who heads West Hollywood Concerned Citizens, a group composed largely of landlords and real estate agents.
But the same provision appears too lenient to Larry Gross, coordinator of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenant activist group that forged a strong power base last November when candidates it supported won four of West Hollywood's five council seats. Gross and his two strongest supporters on the council, Heilman and Helen Albert, would prefer to see vacancy rent increases permitted once in five years instead of two. Council sources doubt they will find a third vote.
"As long as you allow increases every two years, that's a tremendous incentive for evictions," Gross said, adding that if there are no further changes in the ordinance, he would still be satisfied: "I think West Hollywood would end up with one of the strongest rent control laws in the country."
Gross and his supporters won a key victory three weeks ago when they were able to get council support for a second rollback of rents. The council had already agreed to roll rents back to August, 1984, levels to nullify many rent increases that occurred after the county Board of Supervisors decided that month to allow West Hollywood to vote on incorporation.
But three weeks ago, the City Council rolled back rents further, deciding that when the rent law goes into effect, rents will start at their April 30, 1984, levels. Councilman Steve Schulte, who cast the crucial vote for the second rollback, said he changed his mind after being convinced by tenants that many rent increases occurred in June and July, 1984.
"I realized that we hadn't gone back far enough," he said, adding that he was further convinced by a city-funded housing survey that reflected similar figures.
Schulte's vote for the second rollback won new friends among tenant activists and may aid him when he runs for reelection next March along with Heilman and Albert. Schulte, the only one of four council candidates who did not receive the backing of the Coalition for Economic Survival, now may be in better position to get its help next March.