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Proposed Charter Amendment Requires All Units to Register with Rent Board

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By Jorge Casuso

March 16, 2022 -- The Rent Control Board last Thursday proposed changes to the City Charter that would, among other things, require rental units not subject to the rent control law to register with the Board.

It would mark the first time the Rent Board would in any way oversee market rate rental units built after rent control was approved by Santa Monica voters in 1978.

Another proposed amendment would require an owner who evicts a tenant to occupy their unit to make it their primary residence for three years, instead of one.

The proposed amendments -- which would require a City Council vote to place them on the November 8 ballot -- will be discussed at a public meeting in April and perhaps at subsequent meetings.

Rent Board member Caroline Torosis, who with Vice Chair Anastasia Foster placed the discussion item on the agenda, said the changes were prompted by the COVID-19 emergency and the statewide affordable housing crisis.

"Although we still have tenant protections in place in the County," Torosis said, "there are still significant issues where landlords are continuing to go around or creatively skirt some of the rules.

"It's intended to address the (owner-tenant) power dynamic that we have and also make sure that we're protecting the stability of the housing stock we have in Santa Monica.

"Taken together, this is a perfect package in response to what we have seen," Torosis said. "This is something really bold for us to do."

As part of the annual registration, property owners would be required to provide information on the occupancy status of each rental unit, the date the current tenant moved in and what the tenant is paying.

They also would have to provide the reason the prior tenant moved, if known; the water and utility metering status, what amenities are provided and "any changes in ownership information," staff said.

The owner would also be required to provide "any other information the City deems necessary."

Owners would pay an annual per unit fee "to cover the reasonable expenses necessary to administer the rent registry and provide counseling services," staff said.

Two additional amendments the Board hopes the Council will place on the November ballot deal with elections.

One would increase term limits for Board members from two to three full terms to fall in line with local, county and state laws.

The other would not require an election to be held "if there are only as many candidates as open board positions."

According to the report from staff, the Board believes requiring the registration of all rental units would help the City gain "a greater understanding of the scope of the affordable housing crisis in Santa Monica."

It also would help "in determining more effective ways to mitigate its impact, an impact that is driving housing instability, displacement, and greater numbers of the unhoused population."

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