By Jennifer Kennedy, SMRR Steering Committee
It is hard to believe that on April 10th, the 36th Anniversary of Rent Control, long-term tenants paying low rents are still experiencing unfair treatment from a growing number of landlords. Some owners try to force a tenant to move by coercive tactics, such as failing to maintain their properties or abusing their right to enter an occupied unit. They hope that the long-term tenant will move out and a new new tenant will pay market rent.
To protect renters, the newly elected City Council amended our Tenant Harassment Ordinance (“THO”) at their first meeting. The new ordinance established “bad faith” — defined as attempting to “vex, annoy, harass or injure another person” — in place of the former standard of “malice” to determine whether action(s) taken by a property manager or owner constitute prohibited tenant harassment aimed at trying to prompt a renter to move out.
Despite these improvements, there are still some outrageous situations that have gone unaddressed. Some landlords create schemes to hide from payment of rent in order to evict for nonpayment. Or they make it hard to know where to pay the rent. As an active member of SMRR since 2001, I have participated in court watches, and you can too. Judges seem to make fairer rulings when the public is watching. In one case earlier this year, a landlord refused to accept rent the way it had always been paid, then after another payment was made, the landlord returned the rent check to the tenant and filed an eviction.
The tenant won her case. But what does this mean? It means our laws are strong, but we are at risk. We must continuously adjust and enforce our laws according to current conditions. Under the THO, landlords are prohibited from refusing to acknowledge receipt of a tenant’s lawful rent payment.
However, this doesn’t fix all the problems we’ve been hearing about on our Tenant Hotline. Some landlords still continue to falsely claim that tenants haven’t paid rent, or they reject a tenant’s payment without justification. And even though state law requires landlords to specify the name, phone number and address of the person to whom the rent shall be paid, new buyers often withhold this information or cause a tenant to be unclear about how and where to pay rent.
Improvement on these fronts requires amending state statutes. SMRR is actively working with local and state leaders to continue to strengthen the City’s THO as well as statewide tenant laws, to enable renters to be more secure in their rental housing.
If you are experiencing problems with your tenancy in Santa Monica, you can call SMRR’s Tenant Hotline at 310-394-0848. Volunteers are available to help answer your questions. You can also call the Rent Control Board at 310-458-8751. If you receive a 3-day eviction notice, you should immediately pay the rent in a way that you can prove, and contact a good tenant attorney familiar with Santa Monica rent control laws in order to protect your tenancy. If you mail your rent payment, you can get a proof of mailing form at the Post Office.
If you feel you are a victim of tenant harassment, call SMRR and/or a good tenant attorney to evaluate whether to contact the City Attorney. Call the police if you are in real, physical danger, then seek legal advice. The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Santa Monica office, is available to help lower income tenants. You can contact LAFLA at 310-899-6200, ext. 0 for an appointment.