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Rent Board Did Not Recommend Requiring Landlords to Install Submeters

February 15, 2017

Dear Editor,

At last Thursday’s Rent Control Board meeting, I proposed to my colleagues that we as a body encourage the City Council to consider whether RUBS water billing in multi-family apartments helps Santa Monica achieve the water conservation targets we’ve set.

Under this “system,” known as “ratio utility billing,” a landlord devises some arbitrary way of billing his/her tenants for water. S/he could divvy up amounts of the building’s water bill based on unit size, number of occupants, number of bathrooms, or some other factor -- but certainly not using any real data informing them of how much water each unit actually used.

My belief is in line with environmental organizations, who attest that RUBS billing is capricious and unscientific, and does not lead to genuine water conservation. Therefore, I believe the practice should be forbidden in multi-family housing in Santa Monica.

So needless to say, I was surprised by a headline in the Lookout News (www.surfsantamonica.com) the following day, which read, “Santa Monica Rent Board Recommends Landlords Install Water Meters for Each Unit” (February 10, 2017).

Actually, no. The Board did not recommend that landlords be required to install submeters in all buildings. The following is the ONLY action intended, and taken by, the Rent Board on February 9th with regard to renters being billed for their water use: We asked our City Council to consider banning the use of “ratio utility billing,” or “RUBS,” in order to protect renters from what we perceive to be an unscientific, arbitrary, possibly illegal but certainly cynical means by which to extract funds from renters for water use. That’s it.

Water conservation is a goal we all share: landlords, tenants, homeowners and business owners alike. And finding the best way to encourage conservation is a challenge. But, it’s my belief that RUBS billing is not the answer. Such systems are rife with abuse.

Now, it is certainly true that a natural extension of this discussion is that by removing RUBS, those landlords who own newer buildings and DO have the infrastructure ready to take on submeters should do so. And I will agree that for that subset of landlords, I voiced support for them to do so. After all, it would prompt sincere and genuine water conservation among their tenants. With submetering, renters in submeter-ready buildings would know exactly what their water use is, take responsibility for it, and can adjust behavior accordingly.

But it is important to note that many buildings in Santa Monica lack the infrastructure for anything more than a master-metered water billing system, and I do not, nor did the Board, advocate for the overhaul of our water infrastructure throughout the city, as the Lookout piece seemed to imply in both the title of the article and also throughout the piece.

Those interested in watching the Board’s discussion of the proposal can do so at our website: www.smgov.net/rentcontrol.

Sincerely,

Todd Flora
Rent Board Commissioner


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