In split vote, City Council moves toward tenant harassment protections
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
TENANT PROTECTIONS OCT 21 8:45 AM
A member of the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America decorates his car with signs calling for the cancellation of rent in Long Beach. The protest caravan traveled through East Long Beach on Sunday, April 5, 2020. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.
Jason Ruiz | Long Beach Post News
Long Beach renters could see a host of new protections after the City Council voted 5-3 Tuesday to craft a new anti-harassment ordinance—however, adoption of the new law will likely wait until November to be adopted.
The proposed ordinance could outline forbidden practices by landlords as forms of harassment including withholding repairs, threatening to report tenants to immigration officials, providing false information to renters about their rights as renters and requiring landlords to communicate with tenants in their primary language.
While state law protects tenants from retaliation from their landlords, many of the points in the ordinance would introduce new protections to Long Beach renters. However, the ordinance would not be enforced by the city; instead renters who feel their landlords have violated the ordinance would have to sue them in civil court.
Some council members pushed for the ordinance to be crafted as quickly as possible, with the end of the month being the preferred deadline. But the city attorney’s office cast doubt that it could complete the ordinance by then.
Others sought to clarify language in the proposed ordinance and asked that more time be taken with such an important policy vote. Councilwoman Suzie Price requested language be added to specify that landlords were “acting in bad faith” and to provide a window of seven to 10 days for issues to be cured by landlords in possible violation of the pending ordinance. However, her suggestions were not included in the directions for the ordinance.
Price was joined by council members Stacy Mungo and Daryl Supernaw in opposing moving forward with the ordinance, primarily due to outstanding questions that remained about the scope of the ordinance that will return to the council in the coming weeks.
The next City Council meeting, due to the upcoming election and other cancellations, is scheduled for Nov. 17. The council voted Tuesday to create a special meeting on Monday, Nov. 2, in an effort to adopt the ordinance as soon as possible.
Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce shared her experience as a renter who has had her income reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and said that her landlord tried to make her sign several forms including a new lease agreement. Pearce said he told her they were required.
“He’s doing this to me, a councilwoman, who he knows knows the law,” Pearce said. “This is why we need to do something earlier rather than later.”
The idea to craft the ordinance was proposed as a way to help insulate vulnerable renters from harassment from landlords, some who have allegedly tried to increase monthly rents by hundreds of dollars, told tenants that their government stimulus checks had to be turned over to cover rents and disconnected utilities over non-payment of rents.
An anti-harassment ordinance was originally on the council’s September agenda but was removed during the week’s of the council’s budget approval votes.
Long Beach, like other localities, passed an eviction moratorium at the outset of the pandemic-induced shutdown of the economy which protected renters from eviction and gives tenants until next summer to make up missed rental payments incurred during the moratorium.
Residents, however, have continued to report allegations of harassment by landlords over the past few months. Organizers and residents spoke in support of the ordinance, pushing for the council to adopt it before the end of the month.
“This is a matter of basic human decency,” said Elsa Tung, a policy analyst from Long Beach Forward. “If you are a kind, decent landlord then this ordinance won’t impact you.”
They said that while the ordinance would only apply to landlords violating rules that are largely already in place, it could put a stop to the “startling levels of harassment” playing out across the city.
Fred Sutton, a representative from the California Apartment Association, said that the proposed ordinance and it’s “vague definitions” of what constitutes harassment could leave tenants to decide what was a violation of the ordinance. Sutton also claimed there was a lack of outreach to landlords prior to the council’s vote.