Renter rights groups cry foul over last-minute proposed changes to tenant relocation law

*Story update: Council member Al Austin on Tuesday said he will ask to postpone the motion to a later date to give more time for public feedback. Austin said he was under the impression that amendments to the ordinance needed to be made before Aug. 1, but it’s now clear that any proposed changes would require more time. “Our biggest goal is housing security for tenants as well as fairness across the board,” he said. 

Tenants rights groups on Monday said they’re outraged over the Long Beach City Council’s last-minute plan to consider several significant changes to a tenant relocation law set to go into effect next month.

Under Long Beach’s tenant relocation assistance ordinance, landlords will have to pay relocation fees if their tenants are displaced by large rent hikes or certain types of notices to vacate. The law will go into effect on Aug. 1, but on Tuesday, the City Council in its regular meeting will consider several proposed amendments, including some that expand protections for landlords.

The changes, proposed by Councilman Al Austin and supported by councilmembers Daryl Supernaw, Stacy Mungo and Rex Richardson, were added late Friday to the City Council’s Tuesday agenda.

Advocates for renters said they should have been given more notice.

“This ordinance was the result of years of collaborative work and we’re shocked that major amendments to this major legislation were placed on a supplemental agenda,” said Suzanne Browne, an attorney for the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation. “We’re very concerned with the process and the substance of the amendments.”

Browne said three of the amendments “radically change the scope of the ordinance.”

One change would allow landlords to give tenants 180 days notice to vacate as an alternative to relocation assistance. Another proposal would allow exemptions for landlords who own up two properties of four units or less, expanding from the original exemption of only one property. A third proposal clarifies an exemption for condominium owners.

Browne said the city has provided no information on how the changes would impact tenants or landlords.

“We have no idea how many people this will affect,” she said.

Austin on Monday said nobody should be blindsided by the proposed changes since the City Council has had many open discussions on the issue this year.

“We’ve discussed these issues profusely by the council as well as in public comment,” he said. “When we passed the item a couple weeks ago I expressed that this is not perfect, but we’re working to make it a better ordinance to be fair to both tenants and smaller property owners.”

Austin said he was working on the item “all week” last week and didn’t intend to cause any ill will with the late notice.

“There’s nothing nefarious about it, we wanted to get this issue behind us as quickly as possible and get clarity for all the stakeholders,” he said.

While the City Council typically posts its agenda a week before its regular meeting, items can be added up to 72 hours before the meeting in a supplemental agenda, as required by the state’s Brown Act.

But city leaders have stressed that the supplemental agenda shouldn’t be used for controversial issues. In May, Supernaw, who represents the 4th District, proposed a motion to streamline council meetings and noted that the supplemental agenda should only be used for urgent matters.

Supernaw on Monday said he still supports that notion but chose to back Austin’s proposal this week because of the timing issues.

“We were up against the Aug. 1 deadline for the law so we had to move forward,” he said. “We’re not setting a precedent, it just worked out this way.”

However, tenant advocates will have more time to address the changes. Depending on how the City Council votes on Tuesday, any proposed changes to the ordinance would have to come back to the council for two separate readings before they are approved, said City Attorney Charlie Parkin.

Meanwhile, the ordinance as it’s written now will still go into effect on Aug. 1.

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and 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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