L.A. City Council Committee Refuses to Support Equity for Tenants in Code Enforcement Fees
The Los Angeles City Council Housing Community Economic and Development (HCED) Committee held hearing Wednesday, October 12, 2011 to discuss a proposal from the Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) to increase rent control and code enforcement fees.
The hearing room was packed with tenants and landlords and their representatives who testified on the proposal.
The proposal called for a Systematic Code Enforcement Program (SCEP) fee adjustment from $35.52 to $43.32 representing a 28% increase and a proposed Rental Unit Registration fee adjustment from $18.71
to 24.51 representing a 38% increase. LAHD says it needs the increase to prevent a deficit and to enable the Department to maintain the current Code Enforcement, Rent Stabilization and Compliance Divisions operations and services
While tenants groups were not opposed to the fee increase, which will help continue the crucial operations of the Housing Department, they were opposed to the inequity in who pays the SCEP fees. Currently, landlords can pass on the full SCEP fee to tenants. The tenant groups were urging that the SCEP fee be split 50/50 between landlords and tenants similar to the Rental Unit Registration fee.
Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) Executive Director Larry Gross told the committee, “It’s unjust for tenants, who can least afford it, to bear the full financial burden.”
Rachel Torres from UNITE HERE Local 11 representing hotel workers added, “On behalf the 20,000 members we represent, we wish to ask that all parties contribute their fair share and that the SCEP fees should be paid evenly between landlords and tenants, similar to the Rent Registration Fees. This is fair and just. The 28% fee increase is wrong and an unacceptable burden for our members.”
CES member and tenant Sandra Levine said, “I support city inspections because they help to guarantee tenants have safe and habitable apartments. The inspections benefits landlords and tenants therefore it’s fair if the payment is divided.”
Gross stated, “In President Obama’s tax plan speech, he said everyone — including millionaires and billionaires — has to pay their fair share. We agree. And so do the people camping on City Hall’s lawn and protesting around the nation,” referring to Occupy Los Angeles and the other Occupy groups spreading across the nation.
“How is it fair that Social Security dependent Pico Union renter Dolores Lane with $250 left to live on after paying
her rent has to pay the full SCEP fee while multi-millionaire landlord Donald Sterling pays nothing? We urge you to heed our President’s words and apply it to SCEP fees. To not, just provides another economic hit to the 99%,” Gross concluded.
Since SCEP’s introduction more than a decade ago, more than 3.6 million code violations have been cited and resolved and more than $2.6 billion reinvested in the City’s housing stock.
Of the approximately 15,000 complaints LAHD receives each year, LAHD responds to 87% within 72 hours. This program has helped educate tenants and landlords on housing maintenance and preservation matters.
The Rental Unit Registration Fee pays for administration of the RSO compliance and enforcement programs, including support services for the Rent Adjustment Commission (RAC), which is charged with adopting regulations to implement the RSO.
The Committee ended up unanimously supporting the fee increases. But, when it came to a proposal put forth by Council Member Richard Alarcon and Ed Reyes to split the SCEP fee evenly between tenants and landlords, Council Members Tony Cardenas and Herb Wesson voted against it. Thus, the 2-2 vote means the issue will advance to the full City Council, likely next Wednesday, without a recommendation on who should pay the SCEP fee. Tenants need to urge their City Council members to support fairness by supporting the 50/50 fee split.