On Monday evening, the Culver City Council heard a continued item as to whether landlords should be given a 90-day extension to pay and register their rental units beyond the current July 31 deadline.
Tevis Barnes, the city’s Housing & Human Services Director, and Shannon Lewis, Culver City’s Rent Control Coordinated, provided a clear and brief staff report to set up the discussion, which included what actually goes into registering rental units. When landlords register, they are required to provide:
- Their contact information
- Property information
- Unit information
- Emergency contact information
- Authorized Agent contact information
Lewis says that about 80 percent of landlords have registered and paid registration fees for the current period ending July 31. But staff later clarified that only around 40 percent of landlords have renewed for the upcoming annual period ending July 31 of 2024.
Those that won’t meet the deadline will receive notice via U.S. mail and email that their accounts are delinquent and they must register and meet the fees required per unit. Landlords then have until August 31 of a given year to register before facing late fees that will be assessed in September.
Vice Mayor Yasmine-Imani McMorrin inquired as to whether the city had received any reports of incidents involving harassment of, or threats toward, any landlords since the advent of the rent registry information being collected by the city. Staff said they had not.
Resident David Metzler seemed puzzled but what the issue really was with regard to this item being agendized. He said anyone who refinances their house can tell you that within days, they hear from other competitor lending institutions who have managed to find their information through their re-financing application. He also said the real estate site Zillow has plenty of information on rental properties and their various monthly rental amounts going back years.
Planning Commissioner Stephen Jones went right after Mayor Albert Vera, claiming Vera has a financial interest in four single-family homes that serve as rental properties, but is delinquent in having never registered his units in the last three years of the rent control program.
“Landlords like him simply don’t want rental price history to be available to the public, or even available to the city in the case of Mayor Vera,” said Jones. “Because it gives more power to tenants.”
In response, Vera turned to staff, seemingly for help. City Attorney Heather Baker, however, expressed concern over discussing a landlord’s – any landlord’s – personal rental registry situation in a public meeting.
After resident Jeff Schwartz also criticized Vera, saying he was essentially asking for special treatment from the City Attorney, the city attorney jumped in again to defend Vera, saying nothing was amiss. But after a pause, she then turned around and hinted to Vera that he can voluntarily recuse himself if he feels a perception of conflict has been established.
Vera, did in fact do so, saying, “Since there is the perception, I think it’s best to alleviate all of that, that I will recuse myself from this. I will turn over the meeting to the Vice Mayor.”
When it came to council discussion, Councilmember Göran Eriksson said his concern was particularly over the addresses and contact information of owner-occupiers being publicly listed – that is to say, landlords who occupy one of the units in a building they own. “It’s a bit like doxxing, yeah?” said Eriksson.
Councilmember Freddy Puza asked city staff to once again say whether or not they have heard any harassment complaints from landlords, to which, Lewis said they had not, and that “Most of the concern that has been voiced has been during the council meetings.”
Puza went on to say that “Rent registries are the front lines of preventing homelessness. A publicly searchable rent registry allows our stakeholders to identify shifts and housing trends, identify bad actors, and flag illegal rent increases and other violations.” He added that discussions around rent registries have reached the state and Federal level as “An important tool to keep people in their homes.”
Councilmember Dan O’Brien spoke of his own experience as a landlord of single-family properties in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, his original hometown, and the difficulties of collecting enough rent to pay monthly mortgages. He and his wife eventually gave up on the properties because of the difficulties with turnover and various fees, but O’Brien seemed to suggest it gave him a greater understanding of what ‘mom-and-pop’ landlords endure just to build up some equity in properties they own.
O’Brien then said, “I’m going to be in the middle on this,” adding, “I see value in having renters having access to an aggregation of available properties, where they can see the prices. I don’t see the value of putting the landlord’s names on it. I don’t see why that’s important information to a renter.” He said the most valuable information is simply the units available, the price, and a number to contact.
McMorrin said this issue overall is about power dynamics. “I engage in this work as a tenant, being very fearful of making comments in this space, at the podium, for fear that my rent would be raised,” she said. “People really have to get up here and share their trauma, and share their stories, and talk about their families in order to get this – in 2020, three years ago… so this is recent policy,” she added for perspective.
McMorrin also identified the people leading the charge against the Rental Registry as many of the same people who led the charge for Measure B in 2020, a ballot measure that would have rolled back the Rent Control Ordinance.
“Why is folks knowing who owns what property and what the rent is a threat to you as a landlord?” she asked as she spoke in favor of information helping to even the power dynamic.
With regard to extending the registration deadline, McMorrin reminded the public that the current deadline is not a new policy and that the month-long grace period in August is in place to give landlords a no-fault extension to register and pay.
Ultimately, O’Brien moved to not extend the deadline, but to have staff come back with a report on the feasibility of changing the information required by the Rental Registry. Without Mayor Vera in the room, the motion failed 2-2, with McMorrin and Puza opposed.
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