The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday voted to start drafting an ordinance that will add to the protections that tenants have from being displaced from their units being remodeled, but fell short of the city-run program that would eliminate these types of evictions and see the city monitor rental unit remodeling work.
The council had instituted a moratorium on “substantial remodel” evictions earlier this year as it worked to come up with a long-term solution to how landlords could remodel their properties and what that means for the people living inside of them.
A substantial remodel is any renovation that requires work permits to be pulled and would take more than 30 days to complete. The council voted unanimously for the city attorney to start drafting the new ordinance.
Councilwoman Cindy Allen, one of the members who requested the moratorium in July, called for a hybrid approach to the options that were presented to the council Tuesday.
Allen said that while she supported creating a program similar to Los Angeles, which would involve city staff monitoring remodeling projects throughout the city, it was not feasible given the city’s current financial situation.
Instead, Allen asked for the city to start tracking evictions caused by landlords remodeling units, increasing the relocation assistance given to tenants to $4,500 or two months rent, whichever is more, and to require a 90-day notice for tenants being displaced due to remodeling. State law required just one month’s rent to be paid to tenants.
It would also establish a civil penalty of up to $15,000 for landlords who violate the substantial remodel guidelines established by state law.
“These are things that we can do today, at lower costs to the city and to landlords,” Allen said.
The current moratorium on evictions tied to remodels was also extended until the new ordinance is adopted by the City Council. The council will also be presented with a year’s worth of remodel-related evictions once the ordinance goes into effect along with possible funding sources if the council wishes to implement a new monitoring program in the future.
An attempt by Councilwoman Suely Saro to amend the definition of substantial remodel to mean work that takes 60-days to complete was not included in the new ordinance.
Tenants rights groups had advocated for the city to create a monitoring program similar to that of Los Angeles, which removed substantial remodels as a reason for a no-fault eviction and requires landlords to outline plans to mitigate the impacts of renovation work on tenants.
Each plan must be approved by Los Angeles and its employees have broad oversight over the construction process and how it affects tenants, including ensuring that they are properly relocated if the construction requires it.
Grecia Lopez-Reyes, the director of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs & a Healthy Community, said that remodels are being used to displace long-term tenants.
“Many tenants have asked for repairs with no action, but now with a hot housing market they’re using it to kick out tenants and hike up the rent,” she said.
Long Beach estimated that a program like that would cost the city about $2 million annually in the short term before costs were passed off to property owners through fees.
Paying for the program even for a period of time could be a challenge for the city. Earlier Tuesday the council heard a report on how the city’s financial management team would address the 2023 fiscal budget which currently has a $36 million deficit that must be balanced before October.
In a letter to the City Council from the Los Angeles County Business Federation, which includes a coalition of property owner groups representing Long Beach landlords, the organization opposed every option the council considered Tuesday night, questioning if the problem it was trying to fix actually existed.
“The legislative and regulatory process should be rooted in addressing existing problems,” the letter said. “This appears to be a case of solutions in search of a problem. This is not due to the lack of ability to obtain complaint-based data, but simply there are no complaints from individuals who have experienced illegal tenancy terminations.”
The city’s ordinance that will update the guidelines for how tenants can be evicted for remodeling work likely won’t go into effect until early next year, however, the moratorium preventing those types of evictions won’t be repealed until it becomes active.