HomeCity NewsTenants, Landlords Rally Over Rent Control

Tenants, Landlords Rally Over Rent Control

Burbank renters are planning a march at City Hall next week, protesting recent mass evictions in the city and demanding renter protections.

This comes ahead of a highly anticipated City Council meeting Tuesday when the panel is expected to discuss measures to modify state rent control law.

Led by the Burbank Tenants Union, renters are asking for rent control, local protections and adjustments to state rent control law including the closure of a controversial loophole in Assembly Bill 1482 that allows landlords to evict tenants if they intend to make renovations to a property.

“I really just want to see the city take into consideration how vulnerable tenants are to this incoming flood of evictions,” BTU member Jo Pimienta told the Leader. “We would also like to see the Council strengthen some of the things that are already in state law, like relocation compensation, time to relocate or adding a rent cap of sorts.”

A counter-protest is also expected to form, consisting of the city’s landlords, realtors and developers, who allege that rent control is not the will of the people in Burbank.

“Burbank voted against a rent control measure a couple of years ago — the will of the people — championed by our now Mayor Konstantine Anthony,” said David Donahue, property developer and business owner. “But like any good politician, he has not lost sight of what he feels got him into office and I’m sure we’ll see it agendized before his term as mayor has expired.”

The rent control debate has been at the forefront of Burbank politics since Anthony advocated for rent control Measure RC on the 2020 ballot, but it was shot down by voters. It was unsuccessful, Anthony said in a February meeting, largely because the ordinance conflicted with the city charter.

Landlords say that rent stabilization ordinances will disproportionately increase costs for small property owners and will drive “mom-and-pop” landlords out of town.

“Most property owners view their property, even their personal residence as an investment, not a place to live for six months, a year, 10 years or [more] as is the case when renting,” said Ron Bax, owner of an apartment building in the city.

“Don’t penalize people who have been good stewards of their financial portfolio,” he said. “If you want to help renters, don’t sanction housing providers with across-the-board actions, which affect the good and bad. Help renters with aid, which is based on need. Any program should be funded by the entire community, not a specific group.”

Since 2020, a nearly three-year-long county eviction moratorium came to an end March 31, bringing with it a wave of bottlenecked evictions across the county. Burbank was not immune to the trend.

Most of the renters who have spoken up about the issue at City Hall meetings have received “no fault, just cause” evictions on the basis that their landlord has an “intent to renovate.”

Tenants served with the notices are usually offered one month’s rent as compensation for being forced to move.

A loophole in AB 1482 makes all of this legal and allows landlords to end a lease agreement as long as owners have an “intent” to renovate the property. Because of this, the method is often used as a way to raise the rent higher than the county’s annual cap of 8%, a trend that is chipping away at the city’s already meager supply of affordable housing. The city has no method to verify if such renovations ever take place.

Approximately 59% of Burbank’s residents are renters, and they pay more than $1,900 in rent on average according to the 2020 census, though costs have risen. Rentometer.com — a data scraping tool that aggregates rent prices from popular online listing sites — estimates an average one-bedroom apartment in Burbank costs about $2,200 per month. This estimation only accounts for units that were leased in the last 12 months.

Census data indicates that 29% of Burbank renters set aside more than half of their income for rent payments. In a 2022 survey of Burbank voters, 60% of residents found rent control to be an important issue.

At least three of the buildings that received eviction notices were owned by LLCs registered to businesses in Beverly Hills. Pimienta said it is corporate landlords like this that are the root of the problem.

“We need to make it clear that whenever we’re talking about tenant protections, we are also mostly talking about protecting tenants against big companies that are definitely looking to set up such a high bar of entry,” Pimienta told the Leader.

“Dear mom-and-pop landlords, we’re not talking about you,” Pimienta added. “If anything, we could actually use a bit of your support. We would love for you to join us on our side Tuesday.”

Landlords also endorsed some form of protections for tenants, though the gap is still wide, and the turnout for the demonstrations are expected to pull large numbers from landlords and tenants alike.

Others are against protections altogether.

“As a side note, if anyone knows where I can apply for housing assistance to live in Malibu, let me know,” Donahue said in a statement to the Leader. “Because housing on the beach is my human right and I demand justice. Whoever is with me let’s meet up at Duke’s for Mai Tais before we march.”

The Burbank Police Department will be at the rally, and City Hall staff have taken precautions ahead of the meeting to ensure it flows smoothly.

Public comment will be adjusted to one minute for all items aside from the tenant protection study session, where Councilmembers will investigate AB 1482 in depth, and may request that city staff start the process of a local ordinance aimed at tailoring local housing law.

City officials said that seating within the chamber will be available on a first come, first served basis. Speakers might have to exit the chamber after they have made their comments.

“Our number one priority is always to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens and afford them the opportunity to protest and hold demonstrations in peace, and to exercise their freedom of speech,” said Sgt. Stephen Turner, BPD spokesperson, adding that the city is no stranger to such demonstrations.

“BPD will be monitoring the situation closely and will have the equipment and personnel necessary to address any circumstances that stray beyond what would be considered a peaceful demonstration,” he said.

First published in the August 5 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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