The LookOut Letters to the Editor
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Playing the Blame Game

April 18, 2002

Dear Editor,

Rosario Perry and I were the only persons to speak on the proposed Rent Control Law changes at the Rent Board meeting of April 11, 2002 ("Rent Board Wants More Charter Changes," April 17, 2002).
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As usual, the Board's Web site did not give the public any notice of the nature of the changes the Board is proposing. And what change could be more significant than to declare that any family member or "domestic partner" gets a tenancy if the "tenant" dies or becomes "incapacitated"?

Every "landlord" who has a rental unit with children living in it runs the risk of losing control of the rental unit forever if the tenant becomes "incapacitated " (i.e., goes to a convalescent home, hospital, drug rehabilitation program or jail.).

At the April 11, 2001 meeting, I informed the Board that they were causing many of the evictions in Santa Monica by refusing to permit rent increases for additional occupants, as has been permitted in the City of Los Angeles since 1979. The Board had no response to my suggestion. However, your article quotes the Board's General Counsel, Doris Ganga as follows:

"Costa Hawkins (the state's vacancy de-control law) says that if the original occupants are no longer in units, the owners can raise the rent for a remaining sub-tenant," Ganga said. "It's true the spouse, the domestic partner or children are not tenants, but maybe they can pay increased rent. It would give them a chance. Maybe the landlord would be human in their time of trouble."

Despite Ms. Ganga's statement, except for a short time after the 1994 earthquake, the Board has always refused to grant rent increases based upon additional occupants, although it regularly grants rent decreases when owners will not permit additional occupants.

Additionally, landlords have no choice when a tenant chooses to marry or bring a domestic partner into the unit. In 1984, the City Council declared "Santa Monica is losing its children." and adopted a "Fair Housing Ordinance" so that owners are forced to accept the addition of spouses and children to their units without compensation. Then, after the state vacancy decontrol law was passed in 1995, the Council passed the Domestic Partnership ordinance so that single people could live together.

These two make laws make it appear as though Santa Monica has a great flood and a brush fire at the same time. Doesn't anyone see an inconsistency here? (Maybe not in a City where rent control and down zoning laws are applied at the same time.)

Ms. Ganga's statement is also misleading because she says that spouses, domestic partners and children "… are not tenants, but maybe they can pay reduced rent." She neglects to state that any person who pays rent BECOMES A TENANT by operation of law, and the Rent Board has taken that position many times.

The Rent Board could easily reduce the number of evictions and landlord tenant disputes by being fair and allowing rent increases for pets and additional occupants, instead of rewarding their attorney-friends who earn a living by defending tenants in eviction cases. However, what is good for Santa Monica residents is not necessarily good for the Rent Board.

Once again, it is more politically beneficial for the Rent Board to play the "blame game" and imply that "landlords" are less than human rather than to fairly attempt to solve the problems that it helps to create.

J.L. Jacobson
Santa Monica


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