Renters in Santa Monica could soon see some new benefits when it comes to relocation assistance and protections under a tenant harassment law.

The Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously Sept. 13 to have staff prepare ordinances that would increase the permanent relocation benefits for renters who are forced to move for issues such as the Ellis Act, and extend the tenant harassment protections to tenants covered by just cause eviction rules. The Ellis Act is a state law that allows landlords to leave the rental business.

In addition, the proposed ordinance would change the eligibility requirements for the permanent relocation increase for tenants including seniors, the disabled and families with children.

The recommended changes to the permanent relocation and tenant harassment ordinances were proposed by the Rent Control Board in a Febuary memo to the City Council.

Hoping to bring Santa Monica in line with the other local cities with rent control laws, Los Angeles and West Hollywood, in regards to relocation assistance, staff have recommended increasing those benefits. The city last considered raising the relocation benefit in 2007, but West Hollywood and Los Angeles have since provided enhanced benefits due to rising rents and concerns of an increase in Ellis Act evictions, staff said.

“Basically, Santa Monica has fallen behind in the overall relocation amounts,” deputy city attorney Adam Radinsky, who heads the consumer protection unit, told the council.

Under the proposal, landlords who evict tenants from rent-controlled units because of the Ellis Act or reasons other than non-payment of rent would be required to pay relocation benefits ranging from $7,800 to $18,750. The benefits would be based on the size of the unit and if tenants have qualified assistance, including seniors, the disabled and families with children.

Staff said the new amounts would keep the city on par with the other local rent control cities and provide enhanced assistance to displaced tenants when market rents have increased in the area.

In order to expand the relocation benefit eligibility for the elderly, people with disabilities and families with children, staff proposed removing the requirement that the tenants must have moved in before November 1999. Radinsky noted that one concern with the recommendation was that landlords might have a disincentive to rent to those specific tenants if there is no cutoff date for the increased benefits.

The council is also considering changing the city’s tenant harassment ordinance to include all tenants with just cause eviction protections in addition to those in rent-controlled apartments. The law was originally created to discourage unlawful acts by property owners in order to create and benefit from vacancies.

Staff noted that just cause tenants should also be protected from tenant harassment because landlords might still seek to remove them for financial or other reasons but would be prohibited due to Measure RR. The measure, approved by city voters last November, requires landlords to give tenants reasonable time to correct rental agreement violations and to have good cause to evict any tenant.

“It helps tenants generally but it does raise new potential for harassment because it’s now not as easy to evict tenants who might be causing problems because of whistle-blowing… or other factors that might not be considered valid reasons for eviction,” Radinsky said.

In regards to the extension to just cause tenants, City Councilman Kevin McKeown said, “We’re here to do this because the Rent Control Board raised the issues but the voters of Santa Monica last year passed Measure RR, which by giving just cause eviction protection, made possible some of these changes.”

Resident Chrystal Anderson said she was happy to learn that city leaders are concerned with offering protections to low-income renters and she hopes that the city strives to keep affordable housing.

“If people are forced out there needs to be some protections and also some relocation money if there is a just cause that they have to move out,” she said.

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