A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has upheld a key West Hollywood rent control provision that forces landlords to adhere to strict maintenance requirements in their rental units.
In a decision issued last week, Judge David M. Rothman ruled that the city's maintenance standards are constitutional. The ruling is the first to address the legality of the maintenance provision, which has drawn repeated criticism from West Hollywood landlords.
"This is an issue that has already been decided by the courts," said Rochelle Browne, an assistant city attorney. "Obviously, the judge agreed."
The lawsuit, filed last December by attorney Martin Berman on behalf of his wife, landlord Marianne Berman, raised hopes among some apartment owners that the maintenance standards could be challenged as a weak link within the rent law.
Under the standards, landlords are required to repaint an apartment every four years and replace drapes and carpets every seven years. Since last October, more than 250 West Hollywood tenants have filed requests for reductions in rent because their landlords were not complying with the maintenance standards.
The Bermans' case had taken a similar course. Tenant Eugene R. Scholler asked the city's rent board to reduce his rent because Marianne Berman had not agreed to his request for repainting and new carpets and drapes. A city hearing examiner subsequently ruled in Scholler's favor and the rent board later upheld the hearing examiner's ruling.
The Bermans filed suit against the city, asking the court to block the rent board ruling against them and requesting an order declaring the maintenance standards unconstitutional except where landlords and tenants agree to accept the provisions by contract.
But the judge ruled that the Bermans had "failed to demonstrate that the evidence does not support the (rent board's) decision."
Brown said that the court ruling was in accordance with past California decisions upholding the right of cities to decrease rents if services to tenants have been lessened. "There are a number of cases that would support the maintenance provisions," she said, adding, "I would hope the judge's message is clear."
Martin Berman, who has spoken for his wife in the past, was not available for comment. But Brown said that he has indicated an intention to appeal the judge's ruling. Brown noted that the Bermans have also filed a similar lawsuit against the city in a case involving another tenant.
Thus far, West Hollywood's rent control law has weathered almost every legal challenge. The only exception is a Superior Court ruling in May, which ordered the city's rent board to stop awarding refunds to tenants in cases where landlords have been collecting excessive rents. Tenants now are entitled only to rent reductions.