City council passes tenant harassment ordinance

Tenants who have faced harassment from landlords in the pandemic will now have some protection under a new city ordinance.

In a special Monday afternoon meeting, the Long Beach City Council voted 5-0 to approve an ordinance that would bar local landlords from actions including: shutting off utilities, failing to perform repairs, illegally entering for inspections and pushing a tenant to vacate through fraud or threats. The council members representing districts 3, 4, 5 and 8 were absent due to meeting’s timing.

The ordinance comes as many residents say they’ve been harassed by landlords as they’ve struggled to pay full rent in the coronavirus pandemic, even though they legally have protection under eviction moratoriums, which the state has extended to Feb. 1. The local ordinance goes into effect on Tuesday.

Councilman Dee Andrews proposed the item, which outlines 13 protections. A similar ordinance was proposed by Councilwoman Mary Zendejas in August but was scrapped from the council’s September agenda.

Andrews on Monday said the law is meant to target bad landlords who are taking advantage of vulnerable tenants.

“We know who the good ones are and I hope we find out the bad ones so we will pay attention to these individuals,” he said.

Andrew Mandujano with Long Beach Forward, a local renters’ rights group, said unscrupulous landlords had refused to address water leaks, mold and rats and have distributed false flyers stating that tenants must pay full rent or face eviction.

“Vulnerable residents have been facing harassment from slumlords throughout the city,” he said.

Several landlords who spoke out against the ordinance expressed concern that it doesn’t contain any “bad faith” language that would apply to both landlords and tenants who make false claims.

They noted that California already has tenant protection laws, adding city ordinance would cause confusion and would punish good landlords, they said. 

“We’re responsible and caring owners,” said landlord Elaine Hutchison. “All owners will be harmed going forward.”

The ordinance does not block landlords from carrying out lawful evictions. Under the new local law, tenants will have to take their landlords to civil court to settle the matter.

Landlords found to be in violation could be subject to civil penalties of between $2,000 and $5,000. If the tenant is over the age of 65 or disabled a judge could award an additional $5,000 per violation in addition to attorney fees.

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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