The City Council approved a measure Tuesday that could result in temporary rent control in Rancho Palos Verdes.
By a 3-2 vote the council authorized the city staff to draft an urgency ordinance in time for its Jan. 21 meeting that could freeze rents at Palos Verdes Apartments on Los Verdes Drive if the council determines that ongoing negotiations between the tenants and the landlord are unsatisfactory.
The measure brought cheers from a large crowd of tenants who gathered for Tuesday's meeting.
Palos Verdes Apartments' tenants complained to the City Council in mid-October of 9% to 10% rent increases every six months and asked for rent control. Instead, the council set up negotiations between representatives of Palos Verdes Trust, which has owned the complex since Aug. 15, and a recently organized tenants' association. There have been four negotiation sessions.
Speaking for the tenants, Pam Foreman told the council that the negotiating committee had received contradictory messages from the landlords. She said she was initially told that rent increases had been temporarily rescinded. She then learned that they will be reinstated in February.
Foreman said the tenants had hoped rents would not be increased until after the negotiations are completed.
Sanford Diller, a representative of Palos Verdes Trust, told the council he had hoped the negotiations would be completed by Jan. 31. He said California law requires renters to be notified one month in advance of rent increases. He said that if renters were not notified now, the owners would have to wait another month to collect increased rents.
Diller said rents at Palos Verdes Apartments are below market value and that high taxes and the increased cost of liability insurance have forced the landlords to increase them.
In an interview after Tuesday's council meeting, Councilman Robert Ryan said he doubts that there are enough votes on the council to pass an urgency ordinance. He said such a measure requires four votes of the five-member council.
Both Mayor Douglas Hinchliffe and Councilman Mel Hughes voted against authorizing the staff to draft an urgency ordinance. Hinchliffe has expressed opposition to rent control since the tenants first addressed the council. Hughes said that he is concerned about the residents, but that he does not think the city should get in the middle of the dispute.
Ryan called the decision to draft an urgency ordinance "an incentive to bargain on both sides. We don't want to send the signal that the tenants don't have to be fair with the landlords. If this sends the signal to the tenants that they don't have to negotiate, then they are getting the wrong signal. I hope we sent a signal to both sides."