Councilmembers Grapple with Speeding Implementation of Expanded Tenant Protection Ordinance

Monday’s approval directs law to apply to tenants displaced by ownership changes because of large rent increases, lease terminations or convictions, but how quickly can it help?

Published : Tuesday, June 4, 2019 | 5:06 AM

Nathaniel Cooke, who has been a Pasadena city worker for the last 35 years, and whose family has been in Pasadena for four generations, told the Pasadena City Council on May 20 he was among a group of Pasadena tenants who received a 60-day eviction notice. KPAS screengrab

Much of the discussion Monday regarding the City’s unanimously approved First Reading of the expanded Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) was how quickly the program could be implemented, and whether or not it could be modified to assist a number of local tenants recently evicted en masse from a Pasadena rental property.

Among the evictees was longtime Pasadena City employee Nathaniel Cook, part of a group of tenants served with eviction notices more than two weeks ago, following the sale of the building in which they reside.

Cook and other tenants addressed the Council at its meeting two weeks ago

The new ordinance expands the current TPO to apply to tenants displaced after a change in ownership of rental properties, whether by large rent increases, lease terminations, or evictions.

Before the ordinance was discussed, however, Councilmember Victor Gordo, a property owner, recused himself from the discussion “out of an abundance of caution.” Councilmember Margaret McAustin and John Kennedy, who also own rental properties in Pasadena, did not do so.

According to the expanded ordinance, new property owners will be required to provide relocation allowance and moving expenses to income-qualified tenants in good standing, if their tenancies are terminated within 18 months of the date the property is transferred.

But, housing activist Alison Henry told the Council, “It’s still not enough.”

Said Henry, “There is a big concern on the part of the community about overall housing issues, homelessness, and the steps that lead up to homelessness.

“We can’t turn in to a city full of AirBnBs and half-vacant units,” she said. Henry also advised members of the Council to “walk your districts and meet your constituents, especially your renters”

Councilmember Steve Madison then asked City Attorney Michele Bagneris whether or not wording could be changed to make the effective date January 1, 2019, retroactively, hoping that the new dating might protect a large number of local renters. Bagneris responded that the ordinance is “penal” and violators are subject to penal violations, and “people have a right to know going forward that they are subject to laws.”

Madison expressed his own concern that perhaps “some landlords saw this coming and rushed these letters out to the door.”

Madison pressed Bagneris on effective dates of the ordinance, when its protections would go into effect, and when affected tenants would actually be paid. Assistant City Attorney Brad Fuller told Madison that the pre-existing ordinance protects tenants now, and the new “enhanced ordinance” would not apply to any evictions served before the new ordinance goes into effect.

“There’s really nothing we can do about that,” said Fuller. “We got it to the Council just as quickly as we could, under the circumstances, and we’re here, and we’re all trying to get this done as quickly as we can because we’ve all heard from the folks who are concerned about their status as tenants.”

Ultimately, at Councilmember McAustin’s suggestion, the Council noted that the tenant group may have received 60-day notices, which would, in some cases, make tenants eligible for the increased relocation fees. Pasadena Housing Department Senior Project Manager Jim Wong told the Council that the department would reach out to the local tenants to determine their income eligibility for relocation benefits. Income eligibility is defined as “up to 140 percent of the area median income,” said Wong.

Once in effect, additional language in the ordinance will increase relocation allowances to recognize that Pasadena rental rates are increasing faster than HUD fair market rental values, noted the staff report.

Relocation allowances for long-term tenancies of 10 years or more are also being increased by 10 percent for every year after the tenth year, until reaching a 100% increase after 20 years.

Originally adopted in 2004, the Tenant Protection Ordinance, was identified as “in need of strengthening” in the 2014-2021, Housing Element of the City’s General Plan, according to a Housing Department staff report.

The report added that the changes, which would expand and enhance the Ordinance, are intended to provide more assistance to displaced tenants and to keep pace with the rapidly rising rental housing market as directed by the City Council.

“Adoption of this Ordinance is necessary to carry out the Council’s direction,” said the report.

The Housing Department anticipates an increase in the number of tenants eligible for relocation and moving expense allowance. Additional expenses will be the responsibility of landlords who acquire rental units and then terminate tenancies through large rent increases and evictions, as well as those that terminate long-term tenancies of more than 10 years.

The ordinance will return to the Council for a second reading and final approval vote June 10, and if approved, will become effective 30 days later.

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