Late last year, the City of Long Beach once again set out on a warpath by attacking a small group of residents comprised of those of us in the City who willfully provide rental housing to the vast majority of residents of the City. As “landlords,” we are too often portrayed in a negative light by our elected officials who are unstoppable in their efforts to pander to a voting bloc of a City’s renters. For the mere audacity of providing roofs over the heads of the City’s renters, severe negativity is constantly directed toward us in the form of unbalanced ordinances that seemingly always favor those who are being pandered to, which in our case is always the tenants. This is the situation in Long Beach with the City’s so-called “Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance” that was passed late last year.
More recently, and now moving its way through the “system” at the City of Los Angeles is a newer, far more draconian version of a tenant anti-harassment ordinance. Having passed through the confines of the City’s Housing Committee (a/k/a, Anti-Landlord Committee), many controversial and potentially harmful amendments to the ordinance had been put forth by the Socialist and far left leaning Councilmember Nithya Raman. While many of Ms. Raman’s amendments failed in Committee due to our advocacy efforts, those that remained may still put rental housing providers who have not engaged in harassment at risk of being subject to frivolous litigation and prosecution.
If this Los Angeles ordinance is to pass in its current form, the result may likely be a cottage industry set up by unscrupulous lawyers that do nothing but make false harassment claims against landlords, If so, the result will be payments of out-of-court, extortion payments to rid ourselves of these nuisance claims. And yet there is more – the proposed ordinance contains a broad-based, third party private right of action allowing literally “any person, organization, or entity who will fairly and adequately represent the interests of an aggrieved tenant(s)…may institute civil proceedings.” In other words, the mere passerby or visitor to a property is given grounds for initiating litigation against a property owner for harassment.
However, who is going to protect the housing providers? Often, I hear stories of housing providers being harassed – don’t we deserve mutual anti-harassment protections? So many “small business, ‘mom and pop’ landlords” are seniors and are being subjected to verbal and physical abuse and are dealing with tenants that destroy property or permit other occupants to stay without permission that adversely impact the quiet enjoyment of other residents. Until recently, residents have been relegated to their apartments under “stay-at-home” orders, working from home or unemployed, taxing plumbing and appliances through excessive use, and in extreme situations, arguing with other residents they had typically only seen on occasion before or after commutes to work. Stress levels are heightened and may housing providers who attempt to intercede have found themselves in harms-way and threatened.
Sadly, this is the situation we are in today. Unbalanced, unfair, one-sided, and lopsided regulations set out to punish a group of citizens merely attempting to provide badly needed housing. And regulations like these merely end up costing us more money in the form of legal fees and increased insurance premiums – and our elected officials just sit there with eyes looking up and a finger pointed at their cheek wondering why rents continue increasing while at the same time the supply of rental housing decreases.
When such egregious regulations such as eviction moratoria, rent freezes, and now anti-tenant harassment ordinances that seemingly have no bounds are imposed, one has to wonder the obvious – is this merely a game of ultimate government takeover of rental housing? It does seem like some evil, twisted version of the board game Monopoly, but without any money changing hands.
I also wonder, why is it always the case that “we” must be the adults here? Why must we provide constant notices to tenants of their rights and obligations? When did “ignorance of the law is no excuse” suddenly not be true anymore? We gave required notices for Assembly Bill 3088 and then again for Senate Bill 91, Assembly Bill 1482 required new notices depending on whether a property is covered by it or not, and of course there is the constant onslaught of notices, sometimes conflicting notices, required by local ordinances.
And, quite often, failure to notify tenants about the rules, ordinances, and regulations that they should not be ignorant of often becomes an affirmative defense when our tenants do not pay their rent or for other infractions of their lease agreement. Even if notice is given, if not given properly, property owners must start again at square one (The “Go” square in the Monopoly analogy, but we almost never get to collect our $200 there!) and follow the rules to perfection – failure to thread this needle is costly. For our tenants, however, little of rule following matters when the “deck” has been so severely stacked against the opposition.
I do not “hope” things will improve for us. Hope is not a strategy. We must make things happen to change not only the discourse against us in the press, at city halls, and in Sacramento, but we need to begin to strategically “chip-away” at offending regulations. That means, we must support candidates that are sympathetic to our issues and that want to put forth real solutions that can address the state’s housing crisis and not more of the same, retreaded solutions we have seen for more than the past four decades. It also means that “talk is cheap” and we must, when needed, resort to expensive litigation when we can obtain realistic, favorable outcomes. Sadly, here in California, we must feed the political beast and understand that it takes money to make any type of change happen.
As I write this, our Association is embroiled in four Federal lawsuits as we make a strong and strategic effort to effect change needed for our survival. These lawsuits are not cheap and are a major drain on resources, yet if we identify other causes of action and credible plaintiffs, we have the appetite to take on much more, and we absolutely will. I can assure you of that. You can help us in our effort to effect badly needed change. Please consider making a generous contribution to our Legal Fund at www.aagla.org/legalfund and give us the resources we need to continue the fight for change.
Question: Who is looking out for the welfare of landlords? Answer: The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles is.