The Santa Monica Rent Control Board tonight will consider adopting regulations that would extend rent control to fees that tenants pay for off-street parking in residential buildings.
Howell Tumlin, the board's administrator, said the proposed changes would affect those whose rent on parking spaces is separate from the amount they pay for housing.
Tumlin said the board decided to consider parking space rent control after a public hearing in September when "more than 100 tenants showed up . . . each with a similar story of having received parking fee increases as high as 200%."
The proposed addition to the rent control regulations divides parking spaces into three categories: those that have been included as part of the rental of an apartment since rent control began; spaces in apartment buildings that before Aug. 1 were rented to people who do not live in the same building, and spaces in a rent-controlled building that are rented separately to tenants of that building.
The last category is the one that is being considered for inclusion under rent control. If the board adopts the proposed rules after hearing comments from the public tonight, landlords will be required to freeze rents at the Aug. 1 level and register each space with the board.
In addition, if parking spaces now rented to people who do not live in a particular building are subsequently rented to tenants, those spaces would fall under parking space rent control. And parking spaces that were rented to tenants in the same building on or before Aug. 1 cannot be rented to people outside that building, even when a space becomes vacant.
Tumlin said the new rules would force the owners of Santa Monica's 32,000 rent-controlled apartments to reregister those apartments with the rent board for the first time since 1979. He estimated that implementing the program will cost the rent board $375,000 in administrative costs.
Tonight's hearing will begin at 7:30 in the Community Room in Santa Monica Place at 4th Street between Broadway and Colorado Avenue.
Predictably, landlord leaders deplore and tenant activists applaud the proposed regulations. James Baker, a leading landlord spokesman, said the new rules are illegal and unwieldy and will cost landlords money and punish all landlords for the excesses of a few.
"We don't believe the City Charter gives the Rent Control Board any authority to place price controls on uncommitted or optional parking," he said.
"And requiring that parking stalls be
registered ignores the fact that the majority of stalls in Santa Monica have no stripes or identifying means with which to register them," he added. "I don't see how the rent board can avoid that problem. Every owner would incur the enormous expense necessary to stripe and stencil every parking space."
Baker predicted that passage of the proposed regulations would create chaos in the Santa Monica housing industry.
However, Tumlin said owners would not be required to spend money to identify each parking space.
"We are not going to attempt to identify each space because most of them are not identifiable," he said. The rent board will determine which spaces are under the new rent control by using information landlords must submit to the board when they register their parking spaces, Tumlin said.
According to tenant lawyer Lisa Monk, the adoption of parking space rent control is sorely needed in Santa Monica to counter "landlord greed" and is legally within the power of the Rent Control Board.
"I have received a tremendous amount of cases where the landlord has increased parking rents dramatically," Monk said. "If the board does not pass the regulations now, landlords everywhere will raise parking fees astronomically because they will know they can get away with it. The charging of parking fees is an obvious attempt to circumvent rent control."