Los Angeles Approves Moratorium On No-Fault Evictions

Tenants and organizers rally in front of L.A. City Hall on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)

The L.A. City Council on Tuesday approved an emergency rule designed to curb evictions ahead of a state tenant protection law that won't take effect until next year.

The rule is in response to a wave of notices served on tenants starting in September, shortly after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he had struck a deal to cap rent hikes and expand protections for tenants facing eviction.

"Choosing to evict tenants because you know a renter protection law is coming is nothing short of shameful," said Councilmember David Ryu. "There's been too many apartments where long-term residents are pushed out by greed. So, enough is enough."

The emergency ordinance, proposed by Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell, passed city council on a 14-0 vote.

The new rules apply to approximately 138,000 apartment units, according to Rushmore Cervantes, who heads the city's Housing and Community Investment department. They do not apply to rented single-family homes. These are units not already covered by L.A.'s existing Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which protects renters in apartments constructed prior to October 1978.

Both the ordinance and the new state law that goes into effect Jan. 1 cover renters occupying apartments built as recently as 2005.

Both also outlaw no-fault evictions in which landlords terminate month-to-month leases by serving tenants a 30-day notice to leave their home. Evicting tenants for what's known as "just cause," including failing to pay rent or damaging property, will remain legal under the new rules.

The state law also caps rent increases at 5% plus inflation annually.

Council members on Tuesday alluded to entire buildings in their districts that have been served notices to vacate in recent months. Council members also said some landlords had raised rents exorbitantly, amounting to de-facto evictions for tenants.

The L.A. Times reported earlier this month that attorneys for landlords were advising building owners to evict as many people as possible before the new state law takes effect.

Olga Ford gives public comment to the L.A. City Council. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)

Olga Ford is among those who could be helped by the city's new ordinance. She's 77, disabled, and lives in a two-bedroom apartment in South Los Angeles with her granddaughter and great-granddaughter. She said she was served a 60-day order to vacate her apartment in September — along with all the other tenants in her building.

"I know it makes sense to [the owners] because they are the ones gaining. But we are the ones losing and going out to the street," she said.

"Where will I go? Nobody will take me."

When the City Council approved the ordinance, hundreds of tenants and community organizers who had turned out to the council meeting erupted into cheers and chants of "Si se puede!"

Some landlords, on the other hand, said the new ordinance is nothing to cheer about.

"The idea behind the eviction moratorium is not a solution to the affordable housing problem. It only exacerbates it," wrote Dan Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, in a statement to LAist. "The proposal limits property owners' ability to evict problem tenants on legitimate grounds to, in most cases, protect not only their livelihoods, but the comfort, security and safety of other tenants living on property."

The new ordinance still needs to be signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti to become law, which could happen as early as Wednesday.

David Michaelson, a chief assistant city attorney, presented the ordinance to the city council. He said it will give tenants facing eviction lawsuits a way to appeal them.

"If a landlord tries to go to court and get that unlawful detainer, I, as a tenant [would] be able to tell the judge 'wait a minute, the city of L.A. adopted this law... and I, as a tenant, am going nowhere,'" said Michaelson.

The ordinance protects renters who receive 30- and 60-day notices to vacate units, and in-progress, unlawful detainer cases where the tenant still occupies the unit. It does not cover large rent increases.

Those steep rent increases, however, would potentially be addressed by another motion moved by Councilmember Nury Martinez. It was not under consideration at the city council's Tuesday meeting, but Martinez gave a hint of what she has in mind.

"What we intend to do is create a rent relief program for folks to be able to stay in their home until this law takes effect on January first," said Martinez.

City staff said that program will be up for consideration very soon.