By Harold Greenberg, Esq.
Many years ago, a self-proclaimed group calling themselves the Blue-Ribbon Committee on Slum Housing surfaced in the city of Los Angeles, calling for major changes to the city’s rental housing inspection system. The city’s building and security department was to be replaced with inspectors from the housing department who would be more responsive to the concerns of tenant activists. All apartments in the city of Los Angeles would be inspected, not just those where tenants had filed complaints of violation of habitability. Radio, TV and newspaper articles exploded at the scene, triggered by Blue Ribbon’s claims that 107,900 rental units were infested with rats and another 131,700 units had non-functioning toilets. Law students at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), under the guidance of retired professor, tenant activist Gary Blasi, used figures from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1995 and the ” US Housing Study ‘The city’s rental units were uninhabitable.
The figures of the Blue-Ribbon Committee were totally exaggerated. Former mayor Richard Riordan and the city council at the time did not listen. Prompted by former council members Jackie Goldberg and Mike Feuer, who had tenant biases, the Systematic Code Enforcement Program (CEP) was adopted, first on a temporary basis, then as a permanent part of the code. City of Los Angeles. Along with the former mayor and supporters of council, inspectors made high-profile visits to target slum properties. The anomaly that the slum dismantling took place under the existing complaints procedure and was carried out by the Department of Building and Security has been ignored. The old council and former mayor lobbied for a new $ 7,500,000 a year inspection bureaucracy, CEP, and a new agency to enforce it, the Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD).
Finally, on September 5, 2001, the LAHC produced “SCEP Study-2001”, which provided reliable figures on the number of rental units infested with rats and without toilets in the city of Los Angeles In a sample of 5443 units inspected by LAHD over three years, there were 97 units with rat infestation and 125 units without functioning toilets. Projected out of the 750,000 rental units included in the CEP, the total number of rat-infested units in the city was 13,366 instead of 107,900 and 17,224 instead of 131,700 units with non-functioning toilets.
The main flaw of CEP is that inspectors are forced to randomly inspect the 635,000 rental units in some 77,000 apartment buildings instead of focusing on the 1,336 buildings with rat problems and 1,722 buildings with poor quality. toilet problems. Due to this nuclear bomb rather than the targeted missile approach, preventing slum conditions is less effective today than before the imposition of the CEP agenda.
Now is the time to assess effectiveness and reconsider CEP. The Los Angeles Department of Housing and Community Investment (HCID + LA) should upgrade its computer system so that the actual number of issues can be calculated automatically. An Issue Ownership Working Group should be established to review the effectiveness of CEP and possibly recommend that Council revert to an effective complaints-based system. If the CEP is successful, it should only periodically examine buildings where claims are verified and possibly at the time of sale to protect the buyer against latent defects.
Another life-threatening problem needs to be fixed. The SCEP-2001 study found that in almost 20% of the units, tenants had unplugged smoke and fire detectors, leaving the units at risk of death. Inspectors should be able to issue orders to correct and, if necessary, summon tenants on site when they discover dwellings where occupants have unplugged smoke detectors, fire alarms or made the door fire resistant inoperative. During his campaign, Mayor Garcetti promised us a new start as mayor of the whole city. We have since heard, seen and read his statements and his policies on collective housing. They are unilateral, unfair and detrimental not only to the increase in the housing stock, but also to its maintenance.
Myopia on the part of the mayor, HCID + LA and city council does not bode well for rental housing owners and tenants alike. The double standard applied by the HCIDLA, and in turn the mayor’s office, is not only one-sided, but a flagrant violation of our constitutional rights. It is myopic and will only increase crime as neighborhoods deteriorate due to government policies.
Tenants’ rights are a bad case for employment
HCID + LA relies on tenant advocates with proven agendas against landlords. It is not fair, it is not fair and it is not fair. The Mayor and HCID + LA quickly appear in targeted properties with the required media display highlighting slums and deficient properties. When have you ever seen the mayor, or HCIDLA, stand up for a landlord and say that the conditions in the property are caused by “tenants in hell” and the lack of proper policing and assistance, or help from? the city?
The city attorney’s office organizes press conferences indicating injunctions against landlords and building closures. But have they ever called a press conference to declare that they are prosecuting tenants who willfully vandalize their apartment buildings to the detriment of the landlord and other tenants? The “tenants of hell” exist and they are chasing good tenants and reducing the stock of viable residential housing. CEP included a tenant awareness program and a landlord awareness program once adopted by city council. Your SCEP fee pays Tenant Outreach Monitors, who are in effect end-to-end tenant advocates.
Why is it fair or fair that the City can spend taxpayer dollars to pay tenant advocates and lawyers to harass landlords? Now is the time to act and that is exactly what we need to do. This blatant violation of not only delegating ministerial functions to biased and prejudiced individuals, but also of not providing lawyers for mom and pop owners. When has the City or HCID + LA provided equal access to policies and procedures that help you fulfill your function and duties as a landlord? The answer is “never”.
When and if your property is inspected by the HCID + LA, you will be charged for the inspection, for the re-inspection, the handling fees and possibly, if you don’t pay, a late fee which is an outrageous amount. If an individual billed the same rate as the City bills you, they would be sued for usury. How often are landlords quoted due to willful destruction or negligence of tenants?
You must also pay when you are criminally prosecuted according to the principles of HCID + LA when they process your inspections, re-inspections, assemble a case and forward it to the city attorney’s office. Can the City show us another “criminal”, such as a murderer, rapist or pedophile who must pay to be prosecuted? But it’s only getting worse! Under the Bachrach case doctrine, a 1980 Los Angeles Department of Appeals case that only affects Los Angeles County, you cannot raise any defense. The city attorney’s office need only show that you owned, owned or managed the property while there was a violation of the code. This is called strict liability. The prosecution does not have to demonstrate mens rea, a guilty state of mind, nor an actus rea, a guilty act.
Even the Taliban and terrorists can defend themselves in court. As the owner of a rental property, you cannot. Is it right? Is it correct? Is this justice? Why are the mayor and city council afraid to give you the rights of any other criminal accused? Is it any surprise that there is inadequate housing and a shrinking affordable housing base?
REAP (the rental escrow account program) always comes with a rent reduction of up to 50%. This means that if your property is in REAP, your tenant pays rent into a trust fund at a reduced rate, without you receiving any money. The City will charge you $ 50 per unit per month for the “privilege” of being placed in REAP. Of course, you still have to pay for gas, water, electricity, insurance, your property trust deed, and all other expenses. In addition, you must bring the building into compliance with the code. Where does the money come from to make all of these payments? At the same time, the City will file a substandard order, which will be registered against your property. This effectively means that most lenders will not refinance the property. Get the point! They want your building and don’t hesitate to take it away from you.
Most council members and the mayor do not have, are not and will not, in the near future, redress your grievances and assist you. It is equally clear that in addition to the political efforts we engage in, we must act aggressively to kill the dragons in court. This, of course, requires the expenditure of money. We need your political, emotional and moral support. But we also need and urge your immediate financial support.
If not now, then when? If not you, then who? If you don’t go to the plate and get counted, who will be there when you need immediate help? Rodney Dangerfield has said it several times, “I have no respect.” Let us show the mayor and city council that we aim for respect. We aim to do what’s right. The time has come. It is now.
The Greater Los Angeles Apartment Association has worked hard and been fair with the city attorney’s office and HCID + LA in setting up programs and courses to instruct, teach, and educate homeowners on management, operating and working as owners of rental housing. The public does not understand, the worst slum in the city of Los Angeles is the city of Los Angeles. Who wants to live in rental accommodation owned by the City? We no longer want to be doormats but will defend our rights by taking the appropriate legal measures.
The current system does not work when profit becomes a four letter word. Unless we develop an open line of communication where the government does not favor one side over another, or actively works hand in hand with tenants to the detriment of landlords, we will have no alternative but to continue to take legal action against the City.
Harold Greenberg, Esq. is the Managing Partner of Harold Greenberg Law Firm, a Los Angeles-based specialty law firm. He is a member of the board of directors and past chairman of the board of directors of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. You can reach Mr. Greenberg at (323) 732-9536.