Beverly Hills' largest tenants group is protesting a provision in the city's rent control law that allows landlords to evict tenants in order to renovate their apartments.
The tenants organization, Beverly Hills Concern for Tenants Rights, has called the provision a loophole in the law that allows landlords to price them out of Beverly Hills. The city says the provision has been misunderstood and has suggested that landlords meet with their tenants whenever renovation work is scheduled.
Concern for Tenants Rights is attempting to stop the eviction of tenants from a 24-unit apartment building at 8747 Clifton Way. The landlord of the 20-year-old building notified the tenants that they must vacate the premises within a year so that he can carry out a $500,000 renovation.
Most of the tenants have lived in the building for more than 10 years and pay an average rent of $600 a month for their one- and two-bedroom apartments. The renovation would increase the rent on each apartment by about $345 a month.
Under Beverly Hills' rent control ordinance, it is illegal for a landlord to use the remodeling of an apartment as a guise for evicting a tenant and charging higher rent.
Landlords who evict their tenants to remodel must pay each one moving expenses. After the renovation is completed, the evicted tenant is given first right to move back in the remodeled unit.
According to the law, if the landlord rents to a new tenant, the rent for the apartment cannot exceed that which he would have charged the old tenant. Landlords are allowed to pass on the total cost of any renovation to their tenants and can spread those costs over a five-year period.
Annual rent increases in Beverly Hills are tied to the consumer price index. This year, landlords were allowed to raise rents by about 4%.
Rudy Cole, spokesman for Beverly Hills Concern for Tenants Rights, said that the changes being planned for the Clifton Way complex are "cosmetic."
"If we fail to protect the renters now facing eviction, we feel the impact on renters throughout the city could be devastating," he said. "The loss of affordable housing could be as great as the losses incurred during the rush to demolish for condominium construction some 10 years ago."
Cole last week presented the City Council a petition with 500 signatures protesting the evictions.
But Richard Francis, principal owner of the complex, said the renovation work is necessary, not cosmetic.
He said that his plans include installing new kitchens and bathrooms, repairing the garbage disposal system and other changes. Francis, who purchased the building with several partners about 10 years ago, said the work will provide the building's owners with a tax break and will improve the value of the property.
"I know the people who live in my building; they are all wealthy," he said. "Beverly Hills and rent control is a joke. Rent control should be only where people need it--in East Los Angeles or South-Central Los Angeles. This (Beverly Hills) law is the rape of the landlords."
Francis said that if his building was not under rent control, he could charge more than twice what he gets for each apartment.
Mayor Edward I. Brown said the city's rent control law must be working because he has received few complaints from tenants or landlords since controls were enacted in 1978.
Brown said the renovation provision has been misunderstood. He said the city should consider requiring landlords seeking major modifications of their buildings to meet with tenants to explain the the provisions of the law.
He also said the City Council will meet with tenants during a study session to discuss the law.
Despite these measures, several tenants complained that landlords could use the law to evict tenants from modern buildings and make relatively minor changes. Tenants Rights members asked the council to give tenants greater protection from landlords seeking to evict by remodeling their apartments.
Cole asked the council to grant a hearing to tenants facing eviction because of remodeling.
Rosalyn Green, a tenant at 8747 Clifton Way, said "the changes planned for our building are all minor. None of it is absolutely necessary."
She said the evictions will cause hardships for most of the tenants in the building, many of whom are disabled and senior citizens. "This is a scandal," she said. "If they allow one landlord to get away with it, they all will."