In 13 Years, Pasadena's Tenant Protection Rules Only Protected 91 Tenants. Now the City Is Trying to Fix That

Sunday, April 9, 2017
Jason Henry
Pasadena Star News

Pasadena’s City Council fixed a loophole in the city’s Tenant Protection Ordinance this week and expanded the number of renters who qualify, but the ordinance still does not offer protections to most of the tenants in the city.

Roughly one-half of Pasadena’s residents rent their homes, but only 91 tenants have benefitted from the Tenant Protection Ordinance in the last 13 years.

The average rent in Pasadena is $2,515 per month, according to a report released in March.

WHO IS PROTECTED

The Tenant Protection Ordinance requires a landlord to pay anywhere from $1,894 to $4,454 in relocation fees when the occupant is forced to move out because the property is being demolished or the landlord intends to personally use the unit.

Landlords paid out about $284,000 in relocation costs between 2004 and 2017.

The ordinance also applies to de-facto evictions, such as a tenant whose rent is dramatically increased to force them to move out prior to the property’s demolition, according to Pasadena’s City Attorney Michele Bagneris.

The change this week removed an exemption — called a loophole by council members — that allowed landlords to avoid paying the fees by simply ending a month-to-month lease with a 30-day notice instead.

Tenants with a household income that is more than 140 percent of the median income for Los Angeles County do not qualify for relocation benefits. Tenants forced to move out for reasons other than the removal of the unit from the market similarly do not qualify.

WHY THE TENANT PROTECTION ORDINANCE EXISTS

The ordinance was created in response to a developer buying senior housing and evicting the tenants to turn the property into a hotel, according to Councilman Victor Gordo, the chair of the Economic Development and Technology committee.

“The Tenant Protection Ordinance was developed to address a very narrow set of facts involving landlords evicting tenants for the sole purpose of removing the rental unit from the rental market,” Gordo said. “Beyond that, there have been no discussions at the city council level.”

The ordinance creates a disincentive for investment groups and large developers to buy up and demolish older complexes to build luxury apartments, according to Leon Khachooni, director of the Foothill Apartments Association, which represents landlords in the San Gabriel Valley.

“It basically protects the industry,” he said.

NOT MUCH SUPPORT FOR EXPANDING THE PROTECTIONS

In light of skyrocketing housing costs in Pasadena, some critics say the Tenant Protection Ordinance should cover more of the city’s renters. A newly formed Pasadena Tenants Union is working on a campaign for a rent-stabilization ordinance.

However, the City Council is unlikely to support an expansion of the Tenant Protection Ordinance or rent control, according to long-time housing advocates and city leaders.

“I don’t think the council has a tremendous appetite to introduce anything in that way, even if we could,” said Mayor Terry Tornek. “It’s just too slippery of a slope. As soon as you start down the road of trying to determine how much a landlord can raise your rent, how often and under what circumstances, it has a chilling effect on anybody who is thinking about creating new housing in that community.”

Currently, most renters do not qualify for relocation benefits and Pasadena does not regulate the amount or frequency of rent increases.

“So many people I talk to, they just assume there is some limit,” said Jill Shook, a housing advocate.

Shook said she’s spoken to two tenants recently who live in buildings where rents have increased by more than $500 per month. A similar rent hike in South Pasadena caused controversy last year.

Paychecks have not increased at the same rate as rental prices, Shook said.

“The number one reason people are becoming homeless is because of the cost of housing,” she said.

Issue: 
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