Almost 30 years after the enactment of rent control in April 1979, many Santa Monica tenants have questions about how rent control works. Some of these questions were addressed at a recent seminar on rent control held at the Santa Monica Library.
Christy Engels, a Rent Control Board (RCB) mediator, and information coordinators Neil Wessel, Karen Evans, and Evie Lansberry explained the provisions of the rent control law, one step at a time. First, they gave an overview of what rent control covers. Most residential buildings in the City constructed prior to April 10, 1999 are covered, as well as certain buildings constructed after that date. Depending on the unit’s history, some condo units and single-family homes may also be covered.
Some issues that tenants often bring to the Rent Control Board are actually covered by state law, such as notice of entry by a landlord, eviction procedures, and security deposit return. Also, some issues regarding lack of maintenance (failure to replace outmoded or dangerous fixtures) should be referred first to the Building and Safety Department.
Rent is based on the MAR (maximum allowable rent), which Lansberry called the “pure rent,” the amount before the addition of surcharges. Surcharges – a fee paid by the owner for registration, which is passed on to the renter, and several tax fees that fund schools and public works – are added to the MAR to create the lawful rent.
For tenants who moved into units after January 1, 1999, base rents are those provided at the beginning of the tenancy. Due to the Costa-Hawkins Act passed by the state legislature, owners are allowed to raise rents on vacated units to market rate. Once a unit is occupied, the unit is subject to the provisions of rent control including regulation of rent increases.
Each year, the RCB holds a public hearing on proposed rent increases and then decides on an increase. Tenants usually receive a postcard in May or June notifying them of the rent increase agreed upon.
Tenants who want to check on their apartment’s MAR can call, email, or come to the Rent Control Board during business hours, or use the “Rent Levels” link on the rent control website (smgov.net/rentcontrol).
Next, the Rent Control representatives went over what amenities (parking, storage, carpets, right to have roommates or pets) are included with the rent, what maintenance is required, and what are the eviction protections of rent control.
Some important points here: Base amenities for pre-1999 tenants are those provided as of April 1978 or the date on which the unit was first rented. For post-1999 tenants, base amenities are those initially required for the current tenancy. Parking is an amenity included on post-1999 registration forms.
For maintenance issues, it is best to request repairs from the landlord in writing before calling Rent Control. If the landlord does not make repairs after 30 days, a tenant may file a Rent Decrease petition.
Santa Monica’s rent control law limits evictions to either “good cause” (which includes non-payment of rent and creating a nuisance, but does not include late rent payment) or “no-fault” eviction, usually under the Ellis Act, in which an owner can go out of the rental business. In the case of no-fault evictions, the owner must pay a relocation fee to the tenant.
Tenants with specific questions can call, email, or come in person to the Rent Control Board, where the information coordinators will help them. Call 310.458.8751 or go to the website listed above. The Rent Control Board will be holding more seminars for both tenants and owners throughout the year.