The Long Beach City Council voted Tuesday to move forward with a proposed plan that would allow renters more legal protection from landlords following reports of harassment.
After a two-hour discourse, the city council voted 5-3 to approve to have the city manager draft the new ordinance that will likely be approved during a special meeting on Nov. 2, as the panel is not listed to meet again until Nov. 17.
Sponsored by Vice Mayor Dee Andrews and Councilmember Roberto Uranga the ordinance addresses increasing reports by renters experiencing harassment from their landlords, including termination of housing services, failure to perform maintenance on property and demanding tenants sign over their federal stimulus checks to pay rent.
“It’s unfortunate that a few bad apples in the landlord sector faces us to create citywide policies of what should be just human decency,” Andrews said. “It is time that as a city we start taking tenants seriously.”
According to Andrews’ report, over half of Long Beach’s residents spent more than 30% of their income on rent. Long Beach is a majority renter city, where over half of its residents are disproportionately Latino, Black, Cambodian and Filipino.
“Can you imagine a group of individuals who have lived in their place for 24 years, never missed a day of rent, and then you get a new owner who wants to raise the rent $800 more,” Andrews said. “That is a state ordinance that you can’t do.”
Under California state law, landlords are prohibited from retaliating against tenants who have exercised their legal rights, which may include withholding rent due to unsafe living conditions.
Forms of retaliation against state law include terminating a tenancy with unjust cause, increasing rent and decreasing utilities. However, California law does not mention anything about tenant harassment.
Thus, Andrews said he feels there is a need for a city ordinance that would allow renters to take action against harassment from their landlord.
If approved, the ordinance would prevent landlords from providing false information regarding tenants’ legal protection on all levels, failing to provide repairs in a timely manner required by law and violating a tenants’ right to privacy, among other actions.
“The importance of bringing this now and bringing this back to the city council as soon as possible is that we have an urgency,” Uranga said. “We have a pandemic that is horrifically affecting our populations, especially those in dire needs of assistance.”
Several members of the public shared their experiences with tenant harassment in Long Beach and urged the council to adopt the new ordinance on or before Oct. 27.
Elsa Tung, a program manager at Long Beach Forward, said she feels that Long Beach needs a local tenant anti-harassment urgency ordinance similar to neighboring cities including Santa Monica and West Hollywood, to fight back against “egregious abuse.”
“If you are a kind, decent landlord, you have nothing to worry about. This ordinance will not impact you,” Tung said. “But if you are a landlord who harasses and intimidates to squeeze tenants, then your opposition to this ordinance is more a reflection of your shameful character than anything else.”
Andrew Mandujano, a community organizer with Long Beach Forward, said he has helped families come together in several of Long Beach’s nine districts after their experiences with landlord harassment, rent increase and displacement.
Manduajano said that tenants have had utilities shut off, been served illegal 60-day notices and had security doors removed from their homes, threatening their safety.
“In District 3, a tenant’s family was threatened to be killed,” Mandujano said. “Let’s be clear that this is a movement of individuals who are fighting for their rights.”
But Fred Sutton, author for the California Apartment Association, disagreed with the need for a new citywide ordinance and said the state that already covers many of the proposed laws.
“California state law regarding this issue is incredibly robust,” Sutton said. “Meaningful protections [that] this law can impose have already been imposed.”
Sutton also said he felt there was no outreach done to allow rental housing providers to express their input and considerations on the proposed items.
In addition, the prohibitions in the proposed ordinance are too vague and would allow any individual to create their own definition of harassment, Sutton added.
“There are nuances that must be considered to avoid any legal pitfalls and [troublesome] lawsuits,” Sutton said. “The best way to resolve disputes is through communication.”
Councilmember Suzie Price, who voted no, agreed that this was an important issue and that “nobody should have to live under the situations and the circumstances that we heard tonight from many of the speakers.”
Price said she also had some issues with the proposed plans and offered her suggestions to Andrews and Uranga, who disagreed with her input.
“I’m not opposed to having a local ordinance,” Price said. “The particular item that Vice Mayor Andrews has brought forth I think misses some of the verbiage that was included in other city ordinances that to me is kind of pivotal.”
She said that when writing ordinances, it is important to be very clear, avoiding ambiguity and there must be due process.
“There’s nothing requiring any bad faith or ill will on behalf of the landlord,” Price said, referring to Andrews’ proposed plan. “Technically, if you look at many of these items, many of these provisions, they can technically and legally be violated by someone with no ill intent at all.”
For example, a landlord can “annoy” a tenant by asking a question, Price said, which by the language of the plan would allow the tenant legal grounds to sue their landlord.
Price added that other cities with similar ordinances, including Oakland and Berkeley, “all require some sort of a specific intent or mental state on behalf of the landlord, which we don’t have.”
Councilmembers Stacy Mungo and Daryl Supernaw also voted against the plan, though, the motion passed following some adjustments that will be presented during the special meeting on Nov. 2.