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Santa Monica Rent Board Raises Penalty for Neglected Maintenance
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
2802 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90404
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Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP


Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

 

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

May 17, 2015 -- It is about to get more expensive for Santa Monica landlords to disregard maintenance needs and reduce tenants' amenities.

The Rent Control Board last Thursday raised by approximately 45.5 percent the amount of money the City can require in rent reduction if a landlord disregards needed maintenance or reduces amenities.

This is the first time the range for rent decrease amounts has been raised since 2002.

Commissioner Todd Flora said he was glad this was being addressed because what he calls “harassment by neglect” is “really on the rise” in Santa Monica.

He said landlords are avoiding making repairs for rent-controlled tenants to increase the bottom line.

“The bad apples of the landlord community are just waiting people out, hoping that they’re miserable enough to move out and let that unit move back up to market [rate],” Flora said.

For each issue, there is a minimum and maximum amount of money by which a tenant’s rent can be decreased if a hearing officer determines the landlord neglected a maintenance issue or reduced an amenity.

Tenants must bring these matters to the attention of the rent board through what’s called a decrease petition.

The hearing officer can require decreases above the maximum amount or below the minimum amount in certain situations. The rent decrease is lifted once the issue has been remedied.

Among the costliest issues are defective items related to plumbing (up to $350), damaged or missing floor covering (up to $330), insufficient hot water (up to $220), unsafe or inoperative electrical wiring (up to $260), water leakage (up to $175), bug or rodent infestation (up to $175) and substantial holes in floors, walls or ceilings (up to $175).

Removal of amenities for tenants that can lead to rent decreases include parking (up to $550), furniture (up to $275), security gates and fencing (up to $260), storage facilities (up to $220) and laundry facilities (up to $175).

Flora said the rent decrease amounts are “meant to hit landlords where it counts in the wallet, not to hurt them permanently, but to spur them to fix these problems.”

Staff had only recommended the maximum amounts be increased, but Flora said the minimums should also be raised. He was able to convince the other board members to agree to this.

“These amounts have to matter,” Flora said. “They have to spur landlords and property owners into action, and get things fixed for people.”

Hearings Department Manager Amy J. Regalado said an increase by 45.5 percent was selected because that was how much the median market rent in Santa Monica has increased since 2002, when the rates were last raised.

Tracy Condon, executive director of the rent board, said at the meeting that there has been an increase in landlords neglecting maintenance.

For this reason, information on how tenants can use the decrease petition was included in the newest issue of the rent board’s newsletter, which will go to homes next week and is available online now.

Also at the meeting, the board voted to hold a public hearing on June 9 on the maximum allowable rent increase allowed for homes in 2016-2017.

The board decides on this general adjustment every June, with the new amount going into effect each September.

This year’s proposed maximum increase, based on a voter-approved formula, is 1.3 percent. The board could also decide on a dollar amount for the maximum increase, which would be $25.


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