Marina del Rey tenants won’t see relief from housing costs this year

By Gary Walker

*UPDATE/CORRECTION: According to staff for L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, the rent increase freeze is expected to apply to some housing units in Marina del Rey, but which units remains unknown pending recommendations from Beaches & Harbors in January.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is finally moving ahead with plans to limit rent increases in unincorporated areas — except in Marina del Rey, one of the more expensive rental markets in Greater
Los Angeles, and unique in that the county owns the land.

Last week board members instructed staff to return in 60 days with language for an interim rent stabilization ordinance that would cap rent hikes on older buildings in unincorporated areas at 3% per year. But when it comes to Marina del Rey, where the county leases land to apartment developers, supervisors will wait to hear recommendations from the L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors a full 120 days from now.

Though public discussion of housing and development in the marina has long touched on whether affordable housing should be a priority for prime waterfront property that generates revenue for the county, it’s not ideology but legalities — i.e., the county’s pre-existing lease contracts — that are making things complicated. And thus the “unique legal status” of county leases must be taken into account before including the marina in a rent stabilization ordinance, according to a spokesperson for L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose district includes Marina del Rey.

“That’s part of the research that is going to be done,” explained tenants’ rights attorney and advocate Fred Nakamura, part of a 10-member working group convened to advise county officials about rent control policy.

Rent stabilization has become a rallying cry for tenants’ rights groups and some lawmakers, who say there is a direct correlation between soaring rents, displacement and homelessness.

Even communities that have rent caps like the county is considering can only apply them to older buildings — in Los Angeles, a 3% rent increase cap applies only to units built before 1978 — due to the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a 1995 state law that prohibits rent caps on newer structures.

California Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D- Santa Monica) has repeatedly sought to repeal Costa-Hawkins, including via failed legislation earlier this year. Proposition 10, appearing on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot, will ask California voters whether to uphold or repeal Costa -Hawkins.

With Costa-Hawkins restrictions in place, it’s hard to tell how many housing units in Marina del Rey could be eligible for rent increase caps. So many residential buildings are being remodeled or rebuilt that it remains unclear whether any rent stabilization policy would apply to them, said Michael Wilson of the county chief executive officer’s office.

David Levine, president of the Marina del Rey Lessees Association, said landlords who operate under specific county lease contracts appreciate the county’s extra attention to that complexity.

“We look forward to participating in a nuanced and thorough analysis of any potential ordinance to the residential projects in Marina del Rey,” he said. “We share the concern about the rental housing crisis in Los Angeles County, but we look forward to a discussion with the county to ensure that the specific social concerns cited by the members of the board and the public are addressed without limiting the current or future supply of rental housing at all levels of affordability.”

The marina itself didn’t come up as a specific topic during public discussion of the ordinance. L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a co-sponsor of the rent-stabilization effort, spoke of a nexus between escalating housing costs and increasing homelessness.

“If we want to stem the tide of people falling into homelessness and be sure our seniors, as well as other renters, are protected from eviction, we have to curb unrestricted growth in rents,” Kuehl said.