By Jennifer Kennedy, SMRR Steering Committee member
SMRR is dedicated to keeping renters secure in their homes. SMRR believes that rental housing should be just that: housing for residents. But despite Santa Monica’s prohibition on short-term vacation rentals, in recent years there has been a proliferation of furnished units for visitors. Some developers and property owners found ways to flout both Santa Monica’s vacation and “corporate rentals” prohibitions. They provide furnished extended-stay apartments as temporary lodging for people who are just visiting Santa Monica.
SMRR affordable housing activists spoke with renters who’ve lost or were in jeopardy of losing their long term housing because owners/developers wanted to force them out of their units in order to make way for furnished temporary rentals. We reviewed city ordinances and spent many hours identifying ways to protect not only our limited supply of rent controlled housing, but to also prevent new rental housing from being used as hotel rooms.
In August 2020, SMRR presented our information to the City Council and insisted that action be taken. Councilmembers then passed new “leasing laws” that will go a long way to stopping these abuses. Rental housing units are for people to live in as Santa Monica residents, not for use as visitor lodging.
Here’s what the new ordinance means for renters. The new ordinance requires units to be rented unfurnished, and only to natural persons intending the unit to be their primary residence for an initial term of not less than one year. A written notice is required to be provided by land- lords to all prospective tenants about these new leasing requirements. There are limited exceptions for homeowners, but a unit that has been subject to the Ellis Act, an Owner Occupancy eviction, or a Buyout agreement within the last 10 years is not eligible for an exception. The new law went into effect on October 9, 2020. If you have questions about temporary furnished rentals in your building, you can contact SM Code Enforcement at (310) 458-4984. Violators are subject to fines and penalties, and must stop such behavior.
Like so many cities in California, Santa Monica has a shortage of affordable housing units – something that SMRR has been actively working to help remedy as the city embarks on its new state-required Housing Element. Visit www.smrr.org to read about the ways in which SMRR has been advocating for affordable hous- ing locally and statewide.
Vacancy decontrol and turnover of rental housing over time leave less available long-term afford- able housing in our city. Thankfully, our new leasing laws now provide an additional layer of protection for existing tenancies and rental housing units against permanent loss and misuse.