Council delays decision on renter protections

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

The Claremont City Council this week elected to hit the pause button on a series of ordinances aimed at protecting the city’s many renters, recognizing the potentially long lasting and unknown consequences of those new rules.

The council was presented with three ordinances Tuesday that, if passed, would augment and strengthen existing state law by adding additional renter protections in Claremont.

Staff recommended adopting both a temporary urgency and a permanent ordinance placing restrictions on no-fault evictions for renovation. This practice, which has become quite common, involves a landlord removing a tenant to make major upgrades to the unit. These renovation evictions have been used by landlords to remove longtime tenants so the rent can be increased substantially following renovation.

Also on the agenda was a temporary rent stabilization ordinance placing a cap on how much a landlord can increase rents each year. The exact amount of the cap would be up to the council, but numbers floated during the meeting ranged from 2% to 6%.

But the council was not able to reach a consensus on a path forward, voting 4-0 for city staff to draft a six-month no-fault eviction moratorium, which will be brought to the council at its October 25 meeting. Councilmembers also agreed to continue the hearing on the three ordinances.

Mayor Pro tem Ed Reece had to recuse himself because he owns rental property in Claremont.

City Attorney Alisha Patterson and Councilmember Corey Calaycay listen to the comments of City Manager Adam Pirrie during Tuesday’s city council meeting. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

According to the staff report: “For ‘no-fault’ evictions to demolish or ‘substantially remodel’ a tenant’s unit, the costs of the renovations would need to be equivalent to or more than the costs of eight months’ rent for the unit. In addition, the property owner would be required to secure building permits and provide copies of the permits and a detailed scope of work to the tenant before the eviction can take effect; and for all ‘no-fault’ evictions, the amount of relocation assistance would be increased from one month’s rent to three months’ rent.”

Many people in the audience, largely made up of Claremont renters and their supporters, expressed a shared view that the new rules did not go far enough and advocated for a complete shutdown of the “renovation eviction loophole.”

However, under assembly bill 1482, the city cannot prohibit landlords from evicting tenants to remodel their units, according to a staff report.

The proposed ordinances came to the council largely because of the roughly 30 families facing eviction from the Monarch Terrace apartment complex off Vista Drive in Claremont. That building sold in 2021 for $12 million, and the new owner, Revere Investments, has been offering residents buyouts if they agree to vacate quickly.

Any tenant who refuses the buyout has been told the eviction process will begin on January 1, 2023, when the remainder of Los Angeles County’s Covid-era tenant protections expire.

Claremont’s ordinances were designed to strengthen the rules in the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, AB 1482, which was crafted to protect people like those at Monarch Terrace. It established restrictions on evictions in cases where the tenant has done nothing to warrant being removed. The state law also caps yearly rent increases at 5% plus the nominal rate of inflation up to a maximum of 10%.

But there are exceptions to AB 1482’s eviction protections, including one that allows for a tenant to be removed if a major remodel requires building permits and would cause 30 days of displacement for the tenant.

Tenants rights organizations have complained the rent cap in the state bill is too high and the renovation eviction loophole is being exploited by landlords to remove long-term tenants whose rent is lower than market rate.

According to the residents of Monarch Terrace, that is exactly what Revere is up to, removing renters paying $1,500 to $2,000 per month, then performing a cosmetic renovation and raising the rent up to $3,500 or more.

Octavio and Lydia Hernandez have lived at Monarch Terrace for more than 20 years. They both teach at Claremont schools and have sent their three children through that same school system. If they are evicted the couple say they cannot remain in Claremont, which has become far too expensive for them to buy a home and now is becoming impossible for them to find an affordable rental.

“I understand there are challenges in creating a city ordinance that may limit the steps you can take to prevent our eviction. But I implore you to keep working with the city attorney and city manger to explore every legal possibility to keep renters in their homes,” Octavio Hernandez said.

Councilmember Corey Calaycay said he was uncomfortable with passing an urgency ordinance to protect renters, when the city has failed to draft a similar ordinance to curb the growing illegal activity emanating for the motels at the 10 Freeway and Indian Hill Boulevard.

“There is a parity issue there,” Calaycay said.

The proposed motel ordinance was considered at the planning commission last week, but it elected to delay making a recommendation and decided instead to convene a joint meeting of the planning and police commissions to hammer out issues regarding the ordinance.

Calaycay also expressed concern that any restrictions placed on the owners of big complexes might also affect small “mom and pop” landlords who have been impacted by the Covid tenant protections and may have much more narrow profit margins.

He said he was not against passing some type of rules to protect Claremont renters, he just wanted to ensure any action would both be effective and mindful of the cost it places on owners.

Mayor Jed Leano said it appeared the council was at a crossroads and certain proposed changes to the ordinance would likely have to wait for a subsequent meeting. Among those considerations were offering tenants the first right of refusal once a landlord renovates their unit, limiting the ordinance to larger complexes, or having it apply only to corporate-owned rental units.

The council settled on the six-month no-fault eviction moratorium which would give city staff, and eventually the council, time to come up with a permanent set of rules that would satisfy each councilmember’s concerns and priorities.

Before voting to approve that plan, councilmember Jennifer Stark said she understood the complexities of what the council was considering, calling it an “incredible balancing act.

“At least [the temporary moratorium] gives us more breathing room and it gives us an opportunity to use a scalpel and not a hammer on something that requires a scalpel,” she said.

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