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Issue Pits Landlords Against L.B. Tenants : Just-Cause Eviction Measure Would Limit Options for Ousting Aged, Handicapped

March 16, 1986|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — So there it was. He was evicted after five years in the apartment. No explanation from the landlord. No debate. Just get out by the end of the month.

Being evicted can be a traumatic experience for the most steely of renters, but it posed an even more profound problem for Richard Rose.

Rose is blind.

For him, finding an apartment and moving a household of belongings after the 1983 eviction was an unsettling and tedious task.

"It's an extremely difficult process for the disabled or elderly," said Rose, 32. "Moving is traumatic."

That episode and similar tales of woe from the disabled and elderly have prompted a push for a city law that would prohibit landlords from booting such tenants without a justified cause.

Callous Toward Tenants

Backers of the proposed just-cause eviction ordinance, which will be considered by the City Council on Tuesday, say that restrictions are vitally needed to draw rein on landlords who are callous toward aged or physically handicapped tenants.

"It's certainly needed," said Dennis Rockway, senior counsel at the Legal Aid Foundation of Long Beach. "We're just asking that the most disadvantaged segments of our society, the elderly and the disabled, be given some minimal protection."

Many landlords, however, see it differently. Such measures, they say, would unfairly penalize them, restricting their property rights and sending a ballooning number of eviction cases to court. That would only hike the cost of owning apartments, ultimately driving up rents for all tenants, they say.

"The basic problems we have is that no one has demonstrated a need for it," said Carlos Galindo, executive vice president of Apartment Assn., California Southern Cities, which represents about 4,000 landlords in southern Los Angeles County. "There's no rampant abuse of the rights of renters, particularly the elderly or handicapped. The average apartment owner is not some ogre."

Moreover, such an ordinance for the elderly and disabled may only be a precursor to a push for more restrictive legislation such as an all-encompassing just-cause eviction ordinance or--worse yet--a citywide rent-control law, Galindo said.

"It's the foot in the door," Galindo said. "This is clearly just to lay the groundwork for rent control."

Defeated by 2 to 1 Margin

Indeed, many backers of the ordinance have supported past efforts to adopt rent control in Long Beach. Among the proponents is Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, a grass-roots group that pushed for rent control in 1979 when the issue was on the ballot as an advisory measure and defeated by a 2 to 1 margin.

Sid Solomon, president of the 580-member organization, acknowledged that LBACI still favors rent control, but he stressed that the group supports the proposed just-cause eviction ordinance based solely on its own merits.

"There are a large number of renters among our senior citizens and the handicapped," Solomon said. "We want to see what we can do for them."

The ordinance would allow landlords to evict elderly or disabled tenants only for a justifiable reason such as non-payment of rent, disturbing the peace of other tenants, destruction of property or violation of lease agreements.

A landlord could issue a standard 30-day eviction notice unless the tenant is forced out because the property is taken over for the landlord's personal use or is converted to a condominium. In those cases, the renter would get 90 days to find new quarters.

If a tenant challenges in court, the burden of proving a justified cause for the eviction would fall on the landlord. If the landlord loses,

tenants would be allowed to stay in the unit and collect monetary damages.

Efforts to Oust Tenants

Finally, the ordinance would prohibit the landlord from raising rents or other charges in an effort to oust an elderly or disabled tenant.

The campaign for the ordinance, Solomon said, springs from an effort in the state Legislature to adopt similar legislation. Solomon's group decided to begin a push in Long Beach only after a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Art Agnos (D-San Francisco) was narrowly defeated in the Assembly in January.

Just-cause eviction may meet a similar fate in Long Beach. The chief council backer, Councilman Wallace Edgerton, has expressed serious doubt about the ordinance's chances, saying he "will be lucky" to get a second when he moves for approval of the legislation on Tuesday.

"I realize this is not an issue that will be won at City Hall," Edgerton said. "I'm convinced that in time the council will support these views. Right now, though, we're not sensitized to this kind of thing."

Solomon agreed. "A lot of these council members have made up their minds on all renters issues," he said, adding that he feels the council will be swayed in part by pressure from "real estate interests."

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