Rent control opponents torpedo rental rates talks

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A discussion on whether city leaders should continue to explore the concept of rental shortages in Culver City quickly morphed into a referendum on the alleged consequences of rent control at the Dec. 8 City Council meeting.

Members of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles turned out in strong numbers at the meeting and essentially turned what was labeled in the city’s staff report as a “community dialogue on rental housing shortage and rental rates” into anti-rent control show of force.

On Dec. 3, the association sought to rally their members and supports against rent control and rental stabilization at Culver City Rotary Plaza by disseminating a flyer urging their supporters to attend the council meeting to argue against any attempt to deny landlords the ability to raise rents on their tenants. The flyer invoked the names of two cities – including a local one- that have successfully implemented rent control.

“If the Culver City Council adopts a Berkley/Santa Monica type rent control stabilization ordinances (sic), your property rights will be violated! If we aren’t proactive, the results will be devastating and expensive for us,” the flyer read. The association’s flyer contended that if rent stabilization or rent control was considered, landlords and apartment owners would suffer “outrageous registration fees, excessive inspections, prohibitions on annual rent increases and possible misdemeanour (sic) criminal filings.”

The council settled on holding a community meeting at a future date on affordable housing and recommendations from the city’s landlord and tenant board on how it can improve its mediation between renters and owners. Several renters told the council that they had been subjected to high rent increases and were hopeful that city leaders could create a policy to prevent high rent hikes.

Councilmen Andrew Weissman, Jeffery Copper and Jim Clarke all expressed an opposition to rent control and were less inclined to talk about rental rates or any form of rent stabilization.

“I’m fully supportive of all of the comments made this evening with regard to exploring any and all avenues of exploring more affordable housing. That being said, I believe that rent control is bad public policy and not in the best interest of Culver City,” Weissman said. “I agree that the consequences of rent control are unintended but I think they are fully understood.”

Clarke said having the dialogue on rental rates was important because of the actions of some landlord have doubled and tripled the rents on their tenants but capping rents was not the answer. “It seems like [we’re] using a cannon or a shotgun to address what could be addressed with a BB gun,” he said.

Mayor Meghan Salhi-Wells seemed taken aback that a proposed debate on rental rates became a protest on controlling rents. “The specter of rent control has gotten a lot of attention tonight. I’m not in favor of classic rent control. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other means of phasing in rent stabilization,” she told her colleagues.

Two days after the meeting, Sahli-Wells remained chagrined regarding the tenor of the meeting. “I was disappointed at how the debate was framed. I was hoping that we could have had a broader discussion on protection for renters from aggressive, extreme increases that we’ve seen,” the Mayor said.

Cooper asked Culver City Housing Administrator Tevis Barnes how the landlord and tenant board has functioned in recent years.

“Since I have been employed with the city, which is about 13 years, we have only had one case where the owner and tenant could not come to an agreement,” said Barnes, adding that during her tenure at City Hall there have been approximately 45 cases have come before the mediation board. While Culver City is not as expensive as other Westside cities, it has seen an increase in rents as well as in home prices during several years.

“We are at an affordability crisis,” Sahli-Wells said. “The only way that you can strengthen our board is to eliminate it and do something statutory. We’re not going to move forward if we put pour heads on the sand and think it’s too scary to talk about,” she said.

Rent control opponents torpedo rental rates talks