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County Certifies Initiative for Tenants to Buy Units

By Teresa Rochester

A ballot initiative that would allow tenants to purchase their units was certified by the Los Angeles County Clerk Tuesday, paving the way for the proposed Charter Amendment to appear on the ballot in the next election.

Paul De Santis, sponsor of the Santa Monica Residents Protection and Homeownership (SMRPH) measure said he was thrilled with the news.

"We're thrilled," said De Santis, a real estate attorney who crafted the measure. "The next step is SMRPH will appear on the next ballot, whenever the next election is. We're going to work on an educational program. We're starting now."

If approved, the amendment to the City Charter would allow tenants to purchase their units. It also would allow homeowners to rebuild their homes destroyed by a disaster, such as a fire or earthquake, in the same style, density and size as the original structure.

"The thing that's so heartwarming is wherever I go people say 'count me in,'" De Santis said. Under current rents, he said, "new residents stay for a year or less. At those kind of rents they end up buying condos in neighboring communities."

De Santis said SMRPH would act as a stabilizing force for highly transitory tenants who pay market rate rents. SMRPH would encourage those tenants to make a long-term commitment, thus creating more homeownership opportunities.

Opponents, however, counter that SMRPH is a ploy by developers to turn a large, quick profit that would end up driving out tenants who can't afford to buy their units.

SMRPH is a new version of the now defunct Tenant Ownership Charter Amendment (TORCA), which De Santis also crafted and which was approved oeverwhelmingly by voters in 1984. TORCA expired in 1996. During its existence more than 3,000 rental units were converted to condominiums.

Under SMRPH, half of a building's tenants would have to vote to convert their units. Landlords can veto the conversion, as well as convert the units with two-thirds of the tenants' approvals.

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