Crowd angers as council balks on rent control

LOS ANGELES The council voted on a proposed ordinance to prevent large-apartment-building owners from increasing rent on July 1 by 3 percent. They voted to send the ordinance back to committee.

The failure to pass the ordinance sparked contention and several scuffles broke out among the crowd of people in chambers. There were supporters of tenants and landlords in the crowd.

Three people were detained after public unrest broke out at a city council meeting over a proposed rent-hike moratorium. When the council failed to make a decision, tempers flared, and police were called in to clear the council chambers. Some people were handcuffed and taken outside, then released.

The city council was supposed to vote on whether to freeze rents for more than 630 rent-controlled apartment units in the city. Rent increases are scheduled to occur on July 1 for rent-controlled apartments.

Landlords want the increase so they can maintain their properties. Tenants say a rent increase is something they cannot afford.

"Not passing this ordinance means tenants are saddled with an unjust increase of 3 to 5 percent. Not passing this means that the rent burden will increase here in the city, where 58 percent are paying unaffordable rents, and 31 percent are paying 50 percent or more of their income to rent," said Larry Gross, executive director, Coalition for Economic Survival.

"I try to be a good landlord, and I do want to recite what I've seen on some of these T-shirts here that says, 'Fighting for safe, decent, affordable housing.' I believe strongly in that, and that's what I try to do daily," said Francisco Hernandez, an L.A. landlord. "The question is, financially, how am I supposed to achieve the very same ends that the tenants want?"

With the city council opting to send the proposed ordinance back to committee to start all over again, that angered the tenants groups, and the police were called in.

Because the ordinance goes back to committee, those July 1 rent increases will proceed as scheduled. The city council's committee on housing will have to figure out some kind of proposal to tie the rent increases to cost-of-living increases. Landlords don't like it. Tenants want some kind of help.

About two weeks ago, the council voted 8-6 to send the proposal to the city attorney's office to draft an ordinance.

The measure would have capped rents at their current level at least through Halloween, with a possible extension through December. Under current law, rents can go up about 3 percent beginning July 1.

The proposal would only affect large apartment complexes, not buildings that have units of five or fewer. But it would affect thousands of residents in L.A. who rent. About 61 percent of the people in Los Angeles are renters, and more than 600,000 units fall under rent-control in the city.

Council members want to help tenants afford to stay in their apartments, but also want to help landlords pay their mortgages.

"There are people that are renters that really need some relief. There are property owners out there that really need some relief, so we've got a tricky balancing act to try to come up with," said L.A. City Councilman Herb Wesson.

According to L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, the proposal could have a negative impact on residents in the future. Landlords may be forced to raise everyone's rents, not just middle- or upper-income tenants, after the moratorium is over.

"So this may have the unintended consequence of somebody who's low-income getting a four-month break, and then getting socked with eight months of a rent increase that they otherwise wouldn't," Garcetti said.

The proposal would put pressure on lending institutions and banks to maintain the properties after they go into foreclosure. The main concern is that when properties are in foreclosure, the homes get neglected, affecting the whole neighborhood.

There would be some stiff fines associated with the proposal -- up to $1,000 a day for each property.

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