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Council Goes to Bat For So Pas Renters

Passes Urgency Ordinance Against Evictions
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Renters and their supporters stand to show support for an urgency ordinance protecting tenants from no-cause evictions — a measure the City Council passed unanimously Wednesday night during a packed an emotional special session. Photo by Skye Hannah

Before an impassioned, standing-room-only crowd at City Hall on Wednesday night, the City Council unanimously passed an “urgency ordinance’’ protecting renters from no-cause evictions ahead of a new state law that caps rent hikes.

The ordinance went into effect immediately, and will remain in place until Jan. 1, when the state-wide Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482) goes into effect.

The council’s 5-0 vote came during a special meeting, called before the regular council session. In public comments, council members heard from 18 people, some facing eviction — and some in tears — as well as from tenant supporters and one landlord.

The new city ordinance came in the wake of a recent surge of eviction notices in South Pas and around state — with numerous renters receiving 30- or 60-day notices to leave in advance of AB 1482, as landlords look to hike rents ahead of the law’s new limits.

The council’s move followed similar ordinances enacted recently by the city of L.A., Pasadena and Pomona, among numerous other municipalities.

While the council’s action was greeted with cheers and applause, members also warned it was not necessarily a 100-percent guarantee that renters who have already received eviction notices would be able to stay.

Council Member Diana Mahmud cautioned tenants not to feel a “false sense of security.”

“We’re trying to protect the tenants, however, as the Pasadena ordinance said, what we’re doing is we’re giving you an additional defense,” Mahmud told the Review. “I just wanted to make sure that our tenants didn’t just think, ‘Oh, council has passed this and so I’m … free,’ because they’re not.

“No matter what we do, a landlord can still (try to evict). I really hope they don’t. It ultimately will be up to a judge to decide whether or not what we’re doing is valid. As to those tenants who have not yet received a notice, I do think the ordinance would be effective.”

Mayor Marina Khubesrian agreed with Mahmud, saying “It’s a tool they have if they want to go to court. I think it will prevent a lot of evictions.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB Bill 1482 on Oct. 8. It includes provisions that prevent property owners from terminating a tenancy without just cause, and caps annual rent increases to 5 percent plus the rate of inflation, or 10 percent, whichever is lower, among other provisions.

City Attorney Teresa Highsmith said the city ordinance has a retroactive application.

“It will apply to anybody who has already received a notice to terminate their tenancy, even if they’re already in court trying to defend against an unlawful detainer,” said Highsmith. “This ordinance is a tool that they can use … in that sense, it has retroactive application. The only thing it cannot do is be used as a tool by somebody who has already left their tenancy voluntarily, or whom an unlawful detainer judgment in court has already been issued by a judge.”

Highsmith noted that the state law “has prompted unintended consequences to the very people that (it) is intended to help.’’

Residents Anne Bagasao and John Srebalus worked closely together, along with Pasadena Tenants Union, to rally community members and to craft the ordinance, which mirrors the one passed this week in Pasadena. Highsmith based the city ordinance on those residents’ recommendations.

“I think the good people of South Pasadena need to know their (renters’) stories,” said Basagao. “These are not faceless people. These are people whose children go to school here, who are part of our faith community … all of our community organizations, who celebrate in our restaurants, go shopping in our shops, enjoy our music festival, our art walks and all the beautiful things that our community has to offer.”

Rachel Hamilton, a tenant of an apartment on Park Avenue, said she is a student on academic scholarship and a single parent of a child with special needs and chronic medical conditions. She recalled that, on Oct. 31, a representative for her building handed her child a 60-day notice, which was soon followed by a 30-day notice of increase in rent — statements that received gasps from many in attendance.

“We are as much as part of this city of South Pasadena as much as you are,” said Hamilton, as she held back tears. “My child, after 12 years, is finally thriving. He is doing well in school and he is making friends. We have been devastated. We have not been able to sleep or eat in a week since I received those notices. … If we are not protected, then families like mine will be displaced. I request that you protect your residents. We need your help.”

Larry Estrada, a tenant of 635 Prospect Ave. since 2009, received his 60-day notice on Sept. 30. He urged consideration from landlords on how they were impacting residents in their efforts to make a return on their investment.

“I don’t hate the landlords,” said Estrada. “I’m not happy with what’s happening, but I understand you want to make a profit. Just think about how you’re making that profit. Just consider us. I’m not saying make nothing, but is there a fair way to not throw us out so you could make that profit?”

Resident and landlord Alex Schroeder, along his siblings, own four apartment buildings across the city with a total of 33 units. He noted that he issued two 60-day notices, but that his family agreed  they won’t be evicting tenants. He urged the city to grant easier access for more units to be added to complexes.

“We as the citizens and the population need to do something to get more units in here and not hold the landlords responsible, and especially not the families that own the buildings,” said Schroeder. “Please don’t hurt us and there are unintended consequences for what you’re doing.”

“I don’t think [the ordinance] has any teeth to do anything,” he told the Review after the meeting.

Mahmud, meanwhile, encouraged tenants to reach out to the Housing Rights Center, which provides free fair housing services to residents throughout L.A. County. They can be contacted at (800) 477-5977 or housingrightscenter.org.

Skye Hannah, Senior Reporter

Skye Hannah is a senior reporter for the South Pasadena Review and the San Marino Tribune, covering education, government, sports, features and civic issues. Skye previously served as an award-winning senior staff photojournalist and staff writer for five years for the Rome News-Tribune in Rome, Georgia. You can contact Skye with news tips and feedback at shannah@gavilanmedia.com / Twitter @SkyeHannahCA

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