Council pauses ‘substantial remodel’ evictions, tenants relieved
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
With a unanimous vote late Tuesday night, the Claremont City Council authorized a temporary reprieve for Claremont renters facing the possibility of losing their housing at year’s end.
With two actions the council passed both an urgency eviction moratorium ordinance and a separate regular moratorium ordinance barring a specific type of no-fault eviction in which a landlord removes a tenant to perform a “substantial remodel” on the unit.
Both ordinances were approved by a 4-0 vote. Mayor Pro tem Ed Reece had to recuse himself because he owns rental property in Claremont.
According to city attorney Alisha Patterson, passing both ordinances was simply an extra cautious approach that ensures the regular ordinance will be in place to protect tenants if the urgency ordinance is invalidated for any reason. Patterson does not anticipate a legal problem with the urgency ordinance but said it doesn’t hurt to be careful.
The urgency ordinance goes into effect immediately, meaning no Claremont tenant can be removed through a no-fault substantial remodel eviction. The regular ordinance will need a second reading, presumably at the next City Council meeting, and will go into effect 30-days after that. Both temporary ordinances expire on June 30, 2023.
During its October 11 meeting, the council considered adding certain specific renter protections to city code, including permanent restrictions on the substantial remodel no-fault evictions, as well as a cap on yearly rent increases in the city. Faced with an impasse, the council asked Patterson to draft the temporary moratoriums to give it the ability to protect its renters now while they hammer out a permanent ordinance over the next few months.
Claremont’s ordinance doesn’t apply to all rental units in the city, specifically those covered by existing state law, including the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, assembly bill 1482. Exempt units include junior and freestanding accessory dwelling units where the owner lives on the property; duplexes where the owner lives in one of the units; a tenant renting a room in an owner-occupied unit where kitchen or bathroom facilities are shared; and single-family homes, condominiums, or town homes, provided the owner is not a real estate investment trust, corporation, or a limited liability corporation.
“The Temporary Eviction Moratorium Ordinances also would not apply to
substantial remodel evictions where the work is necessary to either bring the property into compliance with applicable codes and laws affecting health and safety of tenants of the building, or under outstanding notice of code violation(s) affecting the health and safety of tenants of the building,” according to the staff report. Complexes with 20 or fewer units would also be exempt due to concerns expressed by members of the council two weeks ago that the rules should not affect smaller “mom and pop” landlords.
“Several Claremont residents who are longtime renters in large apartment complexes report that their landlords are threatening to evict them when the County of Los Angeles’s eviction moratorium expires so that they can ‘substantially remodel’ their units and raise rents. These residents have requested that the City Council consider a ‘No Fault Eviction Ordinance’ and ‘Rent Stabilization Ordinance’ that provide stronger tenant protections than AB 1482. Unless extended, the County’s eviction moratorium will expire on December 31, 2022. The County also could terminate the moratorium earlier if it so desires,” according to a staff report.
Tuesday’s action by the council is the culmination of a monthslong campaign by renters to shore up loopholes in state law before the countywide Covid era eviction moratoriums expire. The need to offer additional protections came to the forefront after dozens of tenants in the Monarch Terrace apartment complex received notification from their landlord, Revere Investments, that it intended to begin mass evictions beginning January 1. Through its onsite manager, Revere offered $7,000 to anyone who vacated voluntarily, a process know as “cash for keys.”
However, the urgency ordinance means those evictions will be put on hold at least until next summer. In the interim, the residents of Monarch Terrace hope the council will come up with a permanent plan that will allow them to stay in their homes.
“We are all breathing a collective sigh of relief for the first time in 12 weeks!” said Lydia Hernandez, who has lived at the complex for more than 20 years. “We have been stressed beyond words. This temporary moratorium on renovation evictions is a huge victory for our families and hopefully for many other renting families in Claremont. We are all grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support our Claremont community has shown us! It is a victory, but the hard work is just beginning.”
“It was a big victory for us and only proves the power of standing together as a unified group and raising our voices,” fellow tenant Elaine Thompson said. “But this is a temporary solution … a Band-Aid if you will. We and they [City Council and city staff] have a reprieve for six to eight months until the end of June 2023 to put together a permanent ordinance.”
A resident at the complex told the COURIER that at least one tenant came home Wednesday to find a 10% rent increase notice taped to their door.
A letter dated October 26 from David Jankowski of Revere Investments was submitted as part of public comment. He states that “Revere is not a big corporation, it consists of two owners, no staff, 16 properties all in Southern California.”
He lists a few facts about Monarch Terrace including that it consists of 38 units, one of which is for the manager. Among the tenants Revere inherited when it bought the property, 19 have left “voluntarily” and 18 continue to live in the complex.
“We have no plans to give notices to vacate due to substantial renovation. The costs for the apartments that we renovated were much higher than expected, our available funds for future renovations are low and we are in no hurry to do more. We anticipate renovations will occur as tenants voluntarily move out over time,” Jankowski wrote.
During live public comment Tuesday, residents of the complex dispute the claim that people left voluntarily, saying they were bullied into taking the cash for keys deal. They also don’t believe that Revere is sincere about the promise not to resume the “notices to vacate due to substantial renovation” once the moratorium expires.
“We are here because you asked us to be,” Mayor Jed Leano said referring to the necessity to pass the moratorium.
However, he acknowledged that the overarching problem lies in the housing market itself, specifically a lack of supply, creating an affordability crisis.
“If the market was working correctly, you would not have to come here [to the council,] you would just go get another rental,” Leano said.