LA Seeks Report to Track Accuracy of Ordinance to Stop Tenant Harassment

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Nearly six months after an ordinance went into effect in Los Angeles aimed at preventing landlords from harassing tenants, the City Council today requested a report with data and metrics that can be used to assess the ordinance’s effectiveness.

The motion instructed the Los Angeles Housing Department — with assistance from the city administrative officer, the chief legislative analyst and the city attorney — to report after the Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance has been in effect for one year, which will be on Aug. 6, 2022.

The CLA was also instructed to conduct a comparative analysis of other California cities’ protocols and programs for enforcing their tenant anti- harassment ordinances, including San Francisco and Santa Monica.

The Housing Department and the city attorney will also report on a recommended tenant anti-harassment program for the city, including what resources are required to create permanent city staff positions tasked with monitoring and enforcing the ordinance.

The ordinance had been in the works since Feb. 2, 2017, when then- Councilman Jose Huizar introduced a motion to have the Housing Department review other cities’ anti-harassment ordinances and report on the possibility of adopting a similar measure in Los Angeles.

On the day the ordinance went into effect, Councilwoman Nithya Raman introduced the motion that was approved on Tuesday.

“I think what we’re going to be able to do with this motion is really to assess what’s working and assess what’s not and to make sure that the city is doing everything that it can to make sure that harassment can stop in the city,” Raman said before the vote Tuesday.

Raman added that she was concerned that private sector attorneys haven’t taken up many tenant harassment cases since the ordinance went into effect, adding that “we really need to be doing this as a city.”

After a years-long process, the ordinance’s draft was reviewed by the City Council on June 9, 2021, when council members voted to strengthen various aspects, including through an expanded definition of harassment, and directed the City Attorney’s Office to incorporate the revisions and bring the measure back for final approval.

The ordinance defines tenant harassment in several ways, including reducing or eliminating housing services such as parking; failing to perform necessary repairs and maintenance; abusing the right to access a rental unit; threatening a tenant with physical harm; misrepresenting to a tenant that he or she is required to vacate the unit; refusing to accept rent payments; and inquiring about a tenant’s immigration status.

Through amendments from Raman, the ordinance also includes tactics like coercing a tenant to vacate with offers of payment; failing to perform necessary repairs on time as required by federal, state, county or local housing, health or safety laws; failing to minimize exposure to noise, dust, lead paint, asbestos and other harmful building materials; and interfering with the comfort, peace or quiet of a tenant.

While the definition was expanded to include a wider range of harassment tactics, council members also set the bar higher for what classifies as tenant harassment, as proposed by Councilman John Lee. The definition includes “a landlord’s knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific tenant or tenants that causes detriment or harm and that serves no lawful purpose.”

Raman had attempted to amend the ordinance to lower the bar for what would qualify as tenant harassment, but the amendment — which defined harassment as a landlord engaging in “knowing and willful commission of” the defined acts of harassment — wasn’t incorporated.

Under the ordinance, if harassment occurs, a tenant who prevails in court may be awarded compensation for damages, rent refunds for reduction in housing services and reasonable compensation for attorney’s fees.

A landlord might also be fined up to $5,000 if the tenant is older than 65 or disabled. For repair or maintenance issues, a tenant is required to provide written notice to the landlord of the alleged violation before initiating a civil proceeding or small claims case.

According to that amendment, it is a misdemeanor “to attempt to interfere with the peaceful enjoyment, use, possession or occupancy of any premises by the lawful lessee or tenant of such premises either by threat, fraud, intimidation, coercion, duress or by the maintenance or toleration of a public nuisance, or by cutting off heat, light, water, fuel or free communication by anyone by mail, telephone or otherwise, or by restricting trade or tradesmen from or to any such tenant.”

Council members also amended the ordinance to force rental units protected by the Rent Stabilization Ordinance to be rented at the lawful rent in effect at the time of the most recent termination of tenancy if the landlord is found to have vacated the unit through harassment.

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