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Panels OK rise in fees to help renters relocate

L.A. landlords would have to pay more when they convert apartments to condos. The council must approve the hikes before they take effect.

February 28, 2007|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

In an attempt to resolve a months-long dispute, two Los Angeles City Council committees Tuesday approved an increase in the relocation fees for tenants who lose their apartments to condominium conversions.

About 11,000 rent-controlled units have been converted in the city over the last five years, leaving many apartment dwellers scrambling to find new places they can afford.

Still, the solutions proposed by the council panels Tuesday seemed to anger both apartment owners and renters, and raised questions about whether unintended consequences could result.

The increases in fees, which building owners pay, are dramatically lower than amounts proposed last month when the same two committees -- planning and housing -- delayed a decision after heavy lobbying from business interests and apartment owners hoping to link the size of the fees to the neediness of tenants.

The full council must approve the new fees, but the matter probably won't come before it until late March.

In a sign of his frustration over trying to get something on the books, Councilman Herb Wesson implored his colleagues to act more quickly.

"This is a quantum leap over where we were nine months ago, when this [issue] was dumped in my lap," said Wesson, chairman of the housing committee.

The current fees are $3,450 for most tenants and $8,550 for so-called qualified tenants, those older than 62 or disabled.

The new proposed fees would be:

* For tenants who have lived in their apartments less than five years: $6,810 ($14,850 if they are qualified tenants).

* For tenants who have lived in their apartments more than five years: $9,040 ($17,080 if qualified).

* For tenants whose income is less than 80% of the area median income as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: $9,040 ($17,080 if they are qualified).

One point of debate is whether a needs-based approach would result in landlords renting only to wealthier people so the landlords would not have to pay high relocation fees. That issue gave Councilman Ed Reyes pause, but under pressure from Wesson he voted for the increased amounts with the caveat that the city do regular studies of the fees' impact.

Westside renter Donna Perricone said all tenants should get the same relocation fee.

"The means test is that I'm getting kicked out of my home," she said.

On the other side of the debate, Sherman Oaks apartment building owner Chuck Betz said the increased fees would unfairly punish people such as him. "We don't mind subsidizing the needy, but we do mind subsidizing the wealthy," he said.

Beth Steckler, policy director of the nonprofit Livable Places, a developer of affordable housing, said the fee increases would not address the fundamental housing-shortage problem and would do nothing to stop apartments from being converted or torn down and replaced with condos.

In a related move, the council committees requested Tuesday that the city attorney draw up a law that would allow the city to control the number of apartment buildings that are demolished.

But attempting to control demolitions would probably be controversial, because it could suppress the number of residences built in the city. Planning department statistics show that when a unit is demolished, it is usually replaced with many more units.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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