More than 100 Santa Monica tenants have accused their landlords of raising parking fees to circumvent the city's tough rent control laws.
The Santa Monica Rent Control Board will hear arguments from both sides during a meeting at 7:30 tonight in Santa Monica City Hall. Tenants contend that the rent control laws cover all parking fees; landlords argue that the fees are separate and not covered.
Both sides may be right, according to Joel Levy, attorney for the Rent Control Board, who has prepared a memorandum on the issue. "There is control under some circumstances and not under others," he said.
Howell Tumlin, administrator of the Rent Control Board, said parking falls under rent control when a space is tied to a particular unit. If landlord assigns a particular space to a tenant and it is included in the monthly rent, then it is controlled, he said.
However, in buildings where parking spaces are available for rent--but tenants are not required to rent them--parking fees are not covered by rent control.
The increases on these so-called "optional" spaces are at the heart of the dispute, Tumlin said.
Attorney Lisa Monk, who represents 110 Santa Monica tenants, said she knows of 72 tenants whose parking fees were increased by at least 200%. Increases have ranged from $25 to $200 a month, she said. In addition, in one building, where current tenants are paying $10 a month for a parking space, new tenants are being charged $40 a space, she said.
"My feeling is that the rent control amendment bans it (large increases)," Monk said. "There is a section that controls parking fees."
Monk said some landlords are using the parking fee increases as a way to get around the rent control ordinance, which limits yearly rent increases and prohibits increases when an apartment is vacated.
But Tumlin said he knows of only four buildings where parking fees have been increased.
"Most of the (parking) rents were in the neighborhood of $25 a month prior to Sept. 1," Tumlin said, "They were increased to $50 to $75. When we learned they had been (raised) that much we decided to get a look at the problem and see how extensive it was."
According to Monk, tenants at some buildings were notified this summer that their parking fees would go up Sept. 1, but landlords have agreed to hold off on the increases until the Rent Control Board rules on whether they are covered by Santa Monica rent control laws.