Business & Economy

LA considers crackdown on tenant harassment by landlords

Los Angeles is looking into adopting an ordinance to protect tenants from harassment by landlords. Tactics may include refusing to make repairs.
Los Angeles is looking into adopting an ordinance to protect tenants from harassment by landlords. Tactics may include refusing to make repairs.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Los Angeles officials are looking at creating a law that would protect tenants who report being harassed by landlords trying to empty apartments so they can raise rents.

Tactics could include refusing to do repairs or taking away amenities in the lease, such as parking or laundry facilities, according to a proposal that went before the City Council on Wednesday.

A tenants harassment law would come at a time when Los Angeles is facing a severe housing shortage that has driven up rents and home prices. Housing advocates say it's critical to stop the further loss of affordable units, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights, Highland Park and Hollywood.

Many units in these neighborhoods are rent-stabilized, meaning annual increases are restricted. But state law allows landlords to raise the rent to market rates once an apartment is vacated.

Landlord groups point out that the offenses that would be targeted in a tenant harassment law are already illegal and they questioned the need for a separate ordinance.

"In this environment where we’re completely undersupplied, there’s a continual look to try to find villains out there," said Fred Sutton of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles

Beverly Kenworthy, executive director of the California Apartment Association, also didn't see the point for a new law.

"We spend so much time going over the details of these issues that may or may not make a difference when we know that housing production and affordable housing production will make a difference," Kenworthy said.

But supporters of such tenant laws argue they help shield tenants. Santa Monica has had a tenant harassment ordinance on the books since the late 1990s and has processed thousands of complaints, said Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinksy.

"We’ve had many complaints filed over the years," Radinsky said. "Each one we’re able to investigate. And if there‘s unlawful behavior going on, we’ll address it."

He said landlords can be fined up to $10,000, and forced to pay the tenants’ attorney's fees if they violate the ordinance. 

In Los Angeles, officials say they will be looking at Santa Monica's law, as well as similar ones in West Hollywood and San Francisco.

Jennifer Ganata, a senior staff attorney at the Inner City Law Center, said Los Angeles is in dire need of more tenant protections. In four years of helping tenants deal with evictions, she reports an uptick in tenant harassment. Incidents include false charges for eviction; she said one of her clients was accused of housing his children when they were actually living with his ex-wife.

Ganata said property management companies hired by landlords are more savvy than mom-and-pop operations, and will often try different tactics to get tenants to move.

"It's like a string of events," Ganata said. "The landlord's trying to figure out what they can get you out on."

Councilman Jose Huizar proposed the tenant harassment ordinance after getting complaints from housing advocates reporting landlords who were trying to push out tenants.

The council approved moving forward his proposal, which he co-introduced with Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson. The council will have to rehear it for consideration on Friday because it had been inadvertently voted on without public comment, according to Huizar's office.