In a highly unusual action, the Santa Monica Rent Control Board has unanimously condemned the City Council for "gutting" a relocation benefits plan intended to help tenants evicted from their apartments and has asked the council to relinquish control of the program.
Rent Board Commissioner David Finkel called for the resolution at Thursday's board meeting, saying that the council had shortchanged tenants and interfered with the administration of rent control when it took over relocation benefits.
The relocation plan will require landlords to pay fees to tenants who are forced out of their apartments. Finkel said the program belongs with the board.
'See a Pattern'
"I see a pattern of the City Council looking for an opportunity to engage in rent control," Finkel said. "And I think they should stay the hell out of it."
Finkel also said the plan should contain stronger protections.
The five-member board, an elected body that operates independent of the council, approved Finkel's motion after an hourlong discussion that included testimony from several members of the audience.
Commissioner Wayne Bauer said the council had perpetrated "a fraud" on the city's voters. Commissioner Leslie Lambert called the council action "outrageous." Commissioner Eileen Lipson said the board had been "swindled."
The rent board action came just two days after the council tentatively approved a benefits package designed to take effect before the Ellis Act becomes law on July 1.
Evictions to Be Easier
The Ellis Act, a statewide housing law, will make it easier for landlords to evict tenants and go out of business. It supersedes a local law that gave the rent board the authority to regulate such evictions.
The rent board initially had asked for permission to administer the relocation program, but the council denied that request. In explaining why the board would not be permitted to run the program, the council stated that the provisions also might extend to housing units not covered by rent control.
On Tuesday, however, the council decided to limit the program to rent-controlled units. It also tentatively approved a benefit scale ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 per apartment, rather than the $4,000 to $5,000 suggested by City Atty. Robert M. Myers.
Board Was Deceived
Finkel said the council, which voted in favor of the scale by a 4-3 vote, deceived the board. Part of the resolution written by Finkel and approved by the board condemns the council for "pretending to play the role of exclusive protector of tenants, then failing to do so."
The majority of the public speakers supported the rent board action. One who expressed opposition was James W. Baker, a spokesman for Santa Monica apartment owners.
Baker said landlords disagreed with the idea of being forced to pay relocation benefits, but did not feel the council action was improper.
In the end, Baker said it probably does not matter whether the council or the Rent Control Board "heaps this abuse" on apartment owners.
Council Action Sought
The board will forward its resolution to the council this week. It also will request that the council set aside the relocation package it is considering and empower the board to adopt its own benefits program.
The council is scheduled to vote on the relocation package June 24.
Under the proposed council ordinance, tenants who are evicted under the new law would receive $2,000 for a bachelor apartment, $2,500 for a one-bedroom apartment and $3,000 for units with two or more bedrooms. Disabled tenants, senior citizens and tenants with children would receive an extra $1,000.
Apartment owners who are able to relocate tenants to another building would have to pay only the moving expenses of their tenants.
In his report to the council, Myers had recommended that landlords pay a flat rate of $4,000 each time someone is relocated and an extra $1,000 for senior citizens and disabled people.
Councilmen James P. Conn, Alan Katz and Dennis Zane voted in favor of Myers' plan. But Mayor Christine E. Reed and Councilmen David G. Epstein, William H. Jennings and Herb Katz opted for the lower scale, saying that the amount proposed by Myers was higher than the amount landlords pay in other cities.
Los Angeles, for instance, requires landlords to pay $1,000 in relocation benefits for each apartment. In Beverly Hills, the fees range from $1,500 to $2,500 a unit.