In a move that city officials said will avoid rent control, Culver City is preparing a law requiring landlords to meet with tenants and city mediators to settle disputes over rent increases or face losing the dispute in court.
The proposed "good faith" law would strengthen the authority of the city's Landlord-Tenant Mediation Board, which was created by the City Council in 1980 to mediate disputes between tenants and landlords.
Board members have told city officials that an increasing number of landlords do not show up for mediation sessions with tenants because the sessions are voluntary.
"The bottom line is that if the landlord doesn't respond, there's really nothing we can do," said Phyllis Baboolal, city housing manager.
No-Shows by Landlords
Baboolal said that the board proposed the good faith law after reviewing statistics showing that landlords failed to show up for more than half of the 258 mediation hearings requested by tenants since 1980.
Of the 95 mediations that took place with both tenants and landlords present, 92 were resolved, mainly with promises by landlords to repair units or reduce rent increases, Baboolal said.
Under the proposed law, if a landlord does not show up for a mediation requested by a tenant, the tenant may use that fact as a defense in court against an eviction action filed by the landlord. The tenant's defense would be that the landlord failed to show good faith in refusing to mediate the dispute.
Jesse Oyler, the city's liaison to the board, said that the law "would be a chance to give the board a little more teeth and avoid rent control."
Baboolal said that Culver City wants to avoid rent control because it is "extremely difficult to administer and to some extent it goes against free market forces."
The city would have to create and staff a completely new department if a rent control law is adopted, Baboolal said. The city has five full-time and two part-time employees in its housing office.
The proposed law, however, would not compel landlords to cut rent increases. Landlords may still increase a tenant's rent after sitting through the mediation session. Currently, according to board figures, landlords have gone through with their originally intended rent increases in 77% of all board mediations in which the landlord participated.
Culver City is the only city on the Westside that does not have some form of rent control. Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood all have ordinances limiting rent increases.
More than 42% of Culver City's 16,700 housing units are occupied by renters, according to Baboolal. Rents for one-bedroom apartments in Culver City range from $525 to $600 and $625 to $650 for a two-bedroom, Baboolal said.
The council Monday asked that the city attorney draft the law and that the board notify the city's Board of Realtors and Chamber of Commerce of the law before it is adopted.
Council members Richard Brundo and Richard M. Alexander said that they were concerned that the good faith principle in the proposed law may be used by tenants to get judges to turn down rent increases.
"I'm very, very concerned," Brundo said. "This sounds too much like de facto rent control."