Although, the plumber she hires isn't named Joe...
June 8, 2011 9:10 AM   Subscribe

LA Rent Control: I'm not sure my landlord is aware that our unit is rent controlled. June is rent control re-registration month. Do I bring this up? Oh, our landlord is a Tea Party chairperson for the region.

We're 9 months into a lease on a legal back house, built in the '40s, within the City of Los Angeles. I've checked the records on NavigateLA, and it clearly designates the property as eligible for the RSO. I think this is the first rental unit our landlord has owned in the city, and we're her 2nd tenants. The first was only there for 6 mos.

The rent was a little high for the space, but we really like it and I was comforted knowing that we were protected from drastic rent increases. The owner's daughter lives in the front house and we all get along famously. The last time I saw the landlord, she was gushing about how much she loved us because the rent always showed up early. When I joked "Remember that when the lease comes up for renewal," she got pretty serious and said "We'll see."

No mention of rent control was made during the lease signing process. We did not get a copy of the rent control registration papers from last year. We're 8 days into June, and we haven't heard about paying our share of this year's registration fee.

I would normally bring this up without question. The law is the law. But the landlord is big in the local Tea Party. Big. I can't imagine she'll be pleased with big bad government stepping into how much she charges for rent. I really fear that bringing this up will completely ruin the good relationship that we have, and suddenly every sentence of the lease is going to be scrutinized to find a way to get us out.

How would you negotiate this situation?
posted by hwyengr to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The law is the law no matter what your landlord's politics are. Bonus, if she tries to deny you your legal right, you can take it to the press.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:17 AM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I lived in a back house in Culver City where my landlord got laid off and took to desperate measures like raising our rent hundreds every month. Our back house was considered a single family dwelling which was not protected by rent control. You should check the designation carefully to make sure you are correct. My only option was to move. And yes, he considered me a model tenant.
posted by effluvia at 9:20 AM on June 8, 2011

The law is the law no matter what your landlord's politics are. I don't know your landlord. But, for whatever it's worth, I have not found the per capita asshole percentages to be any higher among tea partiers than the population at large. (The per capita idiot percentages are through the roof, obviously, but not the asshole percentages.)
posted by The World Famous at 9:20 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is kind of like those "how do I dump someone so it doesn't hurt" questions. If the landlord is going to freak out about not being able to increase the rent, there's no way of broaching the subject that is going to prevent them from freaking out. In my experience, a "good relationship" with a landlord pretty much evaporates the first time you want them to do something they don't want to do, is entirely contingent on your acceding 100% to every single demand they might make, and is thus not really worth very much. This is always primarily an economic relationship, not a social one.
posted by enn at 9:23 AM on June 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

Apologies for the thread-sitting. Sub question: Is this property in fact covered under the ordinance? According to the LAMC, two or more dwellings on the same lot are covered.

However, "Units occupied by an owner or family member where no rents are collected;" are excluded. I don't know what arrangement the daughter has with her mother, but if she's living there rent free, that unit is excluded. Does that mean that there is now only one qualified dwelling on the lot, and therefore it isn't covered?
posted by hwyengr at 9:29 AM on June 8, 2011

Talk to an attorney. There could, for instance, be timely filings required.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:40 AM on June 8, 2011

or "call our Public Information Hotline at (866) 557-RENT, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. or visit one of our Public Counters" (from LAMC). This is getting to be a specific-enough question that you need to talk to someone who knows the ordinance.
posted by Kpele at 9:44 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Assuming you're right, you're covered by the law, and you've fulfilled your obligations -- why bring it up before you have to? There's a chance the LL is fully aware and will abide by the law. If so, all is well. If not, object then.
posted by LonnieK at 9:59 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you are asking for trouble and I don't see any problems or situation to negotiate in your original posting.

I'm pretty sure you are not rent controlled, so check with the city. I think this year the rent increase is 3%, but again, I don't think that applies to you and you don't mention having a new lease to sign or a formal increase or anything.

Another thing - exactly what sort of protections do you think rent control confers here in LA? I'm pretty sure the city doesn't set market value. Guest houses in LA can be pricey. I'm not sure what you want, do you think you can have the rent lowered through the city? Because I'm pretty sure that isn't possible.

If you are worried that your landlord hasn't registered your address as a rental with the city and isn't paying taxes or something like that, I guess that is a concern. But. I think it only matters if your landlord isn't providing a service like heat or repairs and you want to get an inspector out to the property, yet you don't say this is the case. Anyway, the city will inspect if you make a landlord complaint whether you are registered or not - being unregistered would just be one more violation for your landlord on top of any original complaint.

Your landlord doesn't sound like the type not to register the property, but check into it if you feel the need.

Frankly, it sounds from your letter that you are bitter about the amount of rent you currently pay and/or your landlord's politics.

Your landlord's politics don't really effect your tenancy in any way, do they? So drop that. If you think you pay too much in rent - move.
posted by jbenben at 10:16 AM on June 8, 2011

Also, not all landlord's pass fees directly on to their tenants. Not being asked to pay city fees doesn't necessarily signify anything in your situation.

If you think your unit isn't registered in some fashion and/or you're not sure if your dwelling is rent controlled or not, then check with the city.
posted by jbenben at 10:27 AM on June 8, 2011

Holy reading-into-posts, Batman! I don't have a problem with my landlord's politics. That's her business. I was looking for advice on how to broach a potentially touchy subject with someone who holds a completely opposite viewpoint from mine.

And I know exactly what rent control does and does not do. Just because I don't own property doesn't make me an idiot.
posted by hwyengr at 10:38 AM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was looking for advice on how to broach a potentially touchy subject with someone who holds a completely opposite viewpoint from mine.

Ah. Well, my non-legal advice (as I am not your lawyer) in that regard is to set aside political differences and not assume that they will have any effect on the landlord's thought process regarding compliance with or interpretation of rent control laws as applied to your unit. Assume that your landlord will be motivated by a desire to maximize rental income, since that is, as far as I can tell, the motivation of nearly every landlord in the world, regardless of political ideology. I would also assume, if I were you, that it will be less pleasant to work out the differences between your interpretation and the landlord's interpretation of the relevant laws before a non-complying rent increase than it would be after one.
posted by The World Famous at 10:44 AM on June 8, 2011

Oops - my last sentence is messed up. I meant to say that it will be less pleasant to negotiate after a rent increase than before one. If you anticipate disagreeing with the landlord about a rent increase, do it nicely and civilly before it happens, rather than fighting to get it reduced after the fact.
posted by The World Famous at 10:46 AM on June 8, 2011

I think what jben was talking about is Rent Control vs. Rent Stabilization. True Rent Control hasn't existed since the 1970s, and the only people remaining on it have been grandfathered in. Those are the people you hear about paying $300/month for a 2 bedroom. Rent Stabilization states that rents cannot be raised more than 8% per year, with the percentage being set by law annually. Most years it's in the 3-4% range where the max is set.

I'm not sure if it's a federal statute or anything, but in NYC, Rent Stabilization does not apply to apartments rented at a price over $2,000/month. There are also a ton of ways to get a previously Rent Stabilized apartment decontrolled, some of which have to do with the circumstances under which the prior tenant left.

If you want to stay, I'd definitely make a quick call or email to a housing advocate or housing lawyer before you potentially sour any relationship with a person that could hold a decision making position as to whether your lease is renewed or not.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:11 AM on June 8, 2011

I would like to know why you are certain you are covered by the rent stabilization (and be aware it's not the same thing as rent control, as Debaser626 points out), if you weren't informed when you moved in.

Rent stabilization is not federal, and not state anywhere as far as I know, although it may be governed by state statutes if implemented. It will only be found in urban areas that have the home rule capability to enact such ordinances. For example, this is the notice you are supposed to have received or have visibly posted.

Personally, wearing my landlord's hat, if you end up being the messenger as far as the RSO goes, assuming your property should be covered, especially if you did not bring this up at the time of the lease signing, yes I'm sure it would be detrimental to your relationship. Lesson: Don't let things like this be assumed at the lease signing. I can assure you that tenants galore feel it's best not to discuss the pet chihuahua until I discover it there while fixing the sink, forcing me to insist on a pet deposit and/or surcharge. I'm not trying to beat you up here, just pointing out that a lot of tenant behavior is in the same vein.

That said, determining the situation now and making sure that it's in the open now is better than waiting until you get a lease that violates the RSO and forcing a confrontation.
posted by dhartung at 12:38 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Holy reading-into-posts, Batman! I don't have a problem with my landlord's politics. That's her business. I was looking for advice on how to broach a potentially touchy subject with someone who holds a completely opposite viewpoint from mine.

You're basically asking how to approach this issue with a politically conservative person. Suggesting a politically conservative person will have trouble complying with the law (as you interpret it). Pretty sure that qualifies as having trouble with their politics.
posted by jayder at 12:49 PM on June 8, 2011

Pretty sure that qualifies as having trouble with their politics.

I'm pretty sure that it doesn't. There's a difference between waving the Municipal Code in someone's face and yelling "I demand this!" and tactfully bringing up an issue that might be sensitive. Was I being a bit snarky in my question? Probably so. This has de-railed the thread, is interjecting personal political beliefs where they shouldn't be, and I would like to re-focus efforts on handling this specific issue. Your response does not answer one item from my original question.

I would like to know why you are certain you are covered by the rent stabilization

A phone call to the Los Angeles Housing Department cleared this all up this morning. Pretty much any rental property, except a single dwelling on one lot, with a certificate of occupancy issued before October 1978 qualifies for the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance. I guess I just figured that since it wasn't up to the landlord to legally decide whether or not to follow the ordinance, that it needed to be discussed beforehand. Before I moved into the unit, though, I checked the propery records that LA makes readily available. I knew it was covered in most circumstances, I just needed to verify whether or not a family member occupying one of the two units somehow disqualified it. It does not.
posted by hwyengr at 1:02 PM on June 8, 2011

FWIW, not having the fee request turn up in your mailbox, doesn't necessarily mean anything. I live in LA in a rent stabilized building, and I got charged the fee only the first year by the landlord. Since then, my rent has not been raised once, nor have I been charged any additional fee - and it's been 5 years. So there is that, as a data point. It may or may not be relevant, that we get along with our landlord extraordinarily well, and I pay my rent always for two months in advance, plus I take every measure I can not to add costs to the landlord (doing my own plumbing repairs etc. - I have only asked for landlord maintenance help once, when the main building sewer line broke).
posted by VikingSword at 1:04 PM on June 8, 2011

Listen, I'm not sure the city will consider the main house with the daughter residing there as a second rental on the property unless it is registered as a rental property. Check with the city regarding the status of both addresses.

You never clarified your question, but I think maybe you are concerned about the next rent increase?

I want to counsel you not to be so quick to spoil a good relationship with your landlord, if that is what you have right now.


- Is your unit safe and up to code?

- Does your landlord handle maintenance issues promptly?

- Do you have renter's insurance?

If the answer is yes to all three questions, relax. Don't screw up a good living situation prematurely.

Sure. Go ahead and research your rights. Just don't make it your landlord's problem unless there is some huge honking discrepancy you need rectified.

If you are having doubts about the rent increase and you'd like to be able to plan for the future, broach that issue with the landlord. (" Hi landlord! We love living here and would like to stay on, but we have doubts we'd be keen to stay if the next increase is too steep for us to feel comfortable paying. What were your plans for our lease renewal coming up in X month?")

Once you open the conversation, you can negotiate, especially in this market. Knowing your rights is a bonus, but I'm not sure I would throw your weight around in this situation. It's your call, but if you discovered the landlord was shady, I don't know why you'd want to continue to pay rent to someone that you can't trust! There are so many lovely available properties in LA right now, it would be much easier to move. Never live somewhere you don't feel 100% awesome about because it's just not necessary. Especially at your price point.
posted by jbenben at 11:01 PM on June 8, 2011

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