This November voters in Santa Monica will have the chance to either support or reject a measure that would expand some protections to tenants living in non-rent controlled units.
The Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously Thursday, July 22 to place on the Nov. 2 ballot a measure to enhance protections for all Santa Monica tenants by requiring that a landlord establish good cause to evict any tenant and requiring warning notices giving tenants reasonable time to correct rental agreement violations other than non-payment of rent. The measure would additionally prohibit eviction of elderly, disabled or terminally ill tenants for owner occupancy unless the owner is also elderly or disabled.
The ballot measure is intended to better protect tenants, protect affordable housing, preserve community diversity and promote fair housing, city officials said.
The proposed protections are placed on the ballot to take effect because they would amend the city charter regarding the rent control law by expanding protections to all tenants, including those in non-rent controlled units. The City Council, which supported the motion in concept at a prior meeting, voted to combine all three protections under one measure.
“I think this measure reflects what responsible landlords are already doing,” City Councilman Richard Bloom said of the protections that would be extended through the measure’s approval.
Explaining the need to expand protections to non-rent controlled units, city staff said the disparity between rent controlled and market rate units creates an incentive for landlords to evict long-term tenants and threatens community stability.
The Rent Control Board had recommended that giving tenants reasonable time to correct agreement violations other than non-payment of rent is a requirement that should be extended to non-controlled tenants. The board additionally supported prohibiting owner-occupancy evictions of non-controlled elderly, disabled or terminally ill tenants unless the proposed owner was of those categories, and that the landlord establish good cause for evictions.
Several community members spoke in favor of the measure saying they were pleased that the protections would be up to city voters in the election.
“I think these measures are overdue and I’m glad to see they could be on this ballot,” Todd Flora, a member of the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) steering committee, told the council.
Fellow SMRR steering committee member Ana Jara, who has lived in the same apartment for over 25 years, noted that she would not be a resident if it were not for rent control. Renters’ rights and tenant protections are at the core of the city’s sustainability and diversity, she told the council.
Andrew Walzer, who serves as vice chair of the Santa Monica College District Board of Trustees, said he was previously given only a three-day notice for eviction, calling it a “terrifying experience,” and added that the measure will help protect others from such experiences.
“These are important things to protect people from eviction,” he said of the significance of the ballot measure.
Expressing support for the tenant protections, Rent Control Board member Marilyn Korade-Wilson said, “this is not really a controversial issue, it’s a just issue.”
But Wes Wellman, president of the rental property owners group Action Apartment Association, said the ballot initiative is “more about political machine protection than tenant protection.” Noting that five of the seven City Council seats are up for election in November, Wellman claimed that Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights considers the election critical to retaining its “iron grip control of the city.”
“SMRR has pulled from its playbook a time tested technique: putting new tenant protections on the ballot to enable the election to be a referendum on rent control,” he said. “If the new tenant protections were as important as we are led to believe, they could immediately be adopted as ordinances by the existing SMRR council majority.”
City Councilman Bob Holbrook said he initially did not think the ballot initiative was necessary but decided to vote for it because a future council might amend an ordinance on the issue.
Councilman Kevin McKeown said the city has seen an “evolution” of housing stability measures over the last 30 years and the council has regularly returned to voters in reviewing its housing protections. According to a Rent Control Board report, the circumstances for renters have changed in recent years and the statistics have a “human face,” said McKeown, explaining his support.
“I think it’s that human face that I find particularly compelling in putting this issue before the voters,” he said.
The City Council additionally authorized Mayor Bobby Shriver and councilman Bloom, whose seats are not up for election, to submit both arguments and rebuttals concerning the ballot measure.