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Santa Monica Council Authorizes Study of Ellis-Based Evictions

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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 12, 2016 -- City Council members want to know why an increased number of Santa Monica residents are being evicted via a State law that allows landlords to leave the rental business and how the trend can be reversed.

The council unanimously voted Tuesday to authorize City staff or a consultant to study this issue and report back. The study could cost as much as $80,000.

“The [eviction] increases are really troubling,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said. “Some of us on the council feel it personally because we get phone calls from people, and often by the time they think to call a council member, it’s too late. There is very little we can do.”

The Ellis Act, which allows landlords to get out of the rental business, has been in place for three decades.

Santa Monica officials have unsuccessfully attempted to overturn or at least modify the Ellis Act via the court system and by lobbying State legislators.

Rent Control Board statistics show Ellis activity is on the increase, with 153 units removed from the market in 2015, up from 85 in 2014 and 29 in 2013.

The rent board passed a resolution last month to request the council authorize the study (“Santa Monica Rent Board Demands Ellis Act Study,” July 15, 2016).

Board Chair Nicole Phillis told the council on Tuesday that it would be helpful to determine “whether there are policies that the City implements” that lead to Ellis activity and also if “external factors beyond policy” are involved.

Councilmember Gleam Davis said it was a “complex problem” and that economic issues were involved along with possibly policy issues, as well as a mix of the two.

She said the study could determine that Ellis activity could be reduced if City officials "make it more profitable to develop housing somewhere other than where there is existing housing, so that we don’t displace people.”

McKeown added, “We can’t remove the right to Ellis. What we might be able to do though is to mitigate the motivations to Ellis.

He continued, "And that’s what I hope this study will illuminate for us -- why are people doing it. We know it’s for profit, but what exactly is putting them in a position that it is so attractive that they are willing to force people out of their homes."

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