As part of a new get-tough policy, West Hollywood officials have filed criminal charges against 17 landlords for failure to comply with the city's 3-year-old rent control ordinance.
"We want to send a clear message that we expect full compliance with the law, and if there are intentional violations, we will seek prosecution," said Richard Dorsey Muller, the city's director of rent stabilization.
At least six of the property owners accused of violating the city's stringent rent control law were to appear at a hearing today in Beverly Hills Municipal Court.
Fines, Jail Terms
The misdemeanor charges were filed over the last two weeks against 14 individuals and three corporations accused of failure to register their apartments as rental units and failing to pay registration fees, prosecutor Steven Rosenblit said.
Each violation is punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and six months in jail, he said.
The crackdown comes on the heels of charges filed last month against the owner of 32 apartment units who is accused of illegally raising tenants' rent despite a Rent Stabilization Commission ruling in favor of the tenants, Muller said.
If convicted, the landlord could face up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail for each of the 12 months the rents were collected, he said.
Muller said that the most recent charges represent action against "a hard-core few" who have refused to comply with the law since it was enacted in September, 1985.
"A good 97% (of landlords) have complied voluntarily with few problems," he said. "We're talking about a hard-core few who have refused to comply, and we intend to continue to identify and prosecute them until we have achieved 100% compliance."
The more aggressive enforcement policy stems from the City Council's decision last year to hire a full-time enforcement officer for the Department of Rent Stabilization.
Muller said the enforcement officer, who began work in March, is responsible for cross-checking properties known to be in rental use with the ownership records in the county assessor's office, "allowing us to zero in on violators.'
In the two weeks since the first of the charges were filed, Muller said, "we've had several other landlords come forth voluntarily to comply with the (registration) requirements, and we expect to see more of that as the word spreads that we're tightening up enforcement."
In addition, officials plan to follow up complaints from tenants "more aggressively," he added.