First published in the August 12 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Tenants marched over the Olive Avenue Bridge Tuesday in protest of recent mass evictions in Burbank ahead of a highly anticipated City Council meeting on tenant protections, rent control and eviction measures.
At the meeting, the Council voted to begin an investigation into the feasibility of closing a controversial loophole in state rent control law — Assembly Bill 1482 — which allows landlords to evict tenants if they intend to make major renovations to a unit. The city has no power to enforce permitting requirements, which has led to worries that landlords can evict tenants with no real intent to make repairs.
The Council also asked for a study into potential measures to extend eviction relief for tenants of up to three months’ rent, up from the state’s mandated one month.
The city’s landlords, real estate groups and other business owners came out in force to the meeting too, which heard more than 100 individual statements during the meeting’s public comment section.
This comes as mass evictions are on the rise countywide. Experts anticipate that 50,000 renters will face evictions in Los Angeles this year. Burbank has seen the fallout of this trend since the end of the countywide eviction moratorium in March. Since then, dozens of renters have pleaded with the City Council to take action.
Tenants asked Tuesday for a closure of the eviction permitting loophole, rent control, relocation assistance for evictions and other adjustments to local provisions regarding state rent control law.
“Our neighbors have been in crisis for years, dealing with unsustainable 8-10% rent increases, harassment and ‘reno-victions.’ We are organizing for our dignity and the right to stay in our homes — and we aren’t going anywhere,” the Burbank Tenants Union — the group that organized the march — posted on Instagram Wednesday.
Landlords have said that rent control would push costs too high for mom-and-pop housing providers, and many told the Council they would consider selling their properties if the Council approved stricter rent control than state law mandates.
“We remind the Council that educating the community of the significant protections AB 1482 provides renters living in the city of Burbank is the primary purpose of tonight’s meeting, not the consideration of an emergency rent freeze, eviction moratorium or permanent rent control measures,” said Max Sherman, association director of government affairs at the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.
Tuesday was slated as a study session meant to inform city leaders on state rent control measures, and Councilmembers did make it clear in past meetings that they planned to investigate additional protections on the local level.
“This is a very charged issue. The tensions are high. I think we all just need to take a deep breath, come together and really listen to what one another is saying and not assume others’ viewpoints,” said Vice Mayor Nick Schultz during the meeting.
A key takeaway from the study session presentation was that the city cannot intervene in eviction procedures, as the state regulates the process heavily.
“The procedure for terminating tenancy is deliberately intended to be expeditious and there are a number of court cases that say local government cannot impede that process,” said Karen Tiedemann, an attorney with Goldfarb Lipman Attorneys, whom the city contracted with to manage the study session.
Additionally, Tiedemann reiterated that the city does not yet have the power to enforce the permitting process in instances where landlords choose to evict a tenant for renovations.
Tiedemann also broke down the statistics of Burbank’s housing demographics. Of Burbank’s roughly 105,000 residents, 58.2% of the units in the city were occupied by renters and 56% of Burbank’s renters are considered low to moderate income households.
“It is ridiculous that 58% of our residents are renters,” Mayor Konstantine Anthony said. “That alone is a massive failure of governance. What happened to the American dream of owning your house, raising your family, the white picket fence? You can’t buy the American dream in Burbank anymore.”
Tiedemann added that more than half of Burbank renters are considered “rent burdened” while a third are severely rent burdened, meaning that more than half of their income goes directly to rent.
The average one-bedroom unit in Burbank rents for $2,263 per month. Officials attributed the soaring housing costs to shortages of housing units, a problem cities are experiencing statewide.
“There was a huge changeover in the ownership of housing 15 years ago,” said Anthony, referencing the 2008 housing crisis. “We saw land transferred from the ownership of individuals into the hands of corporations. Previously, only big cities had problems with housing shortages, because they were all built out, so that’s where you would find rent control. That’s not true anymore. We now see smaller and smaller jurisdictions going toward tenant protections.”
The city currently has 200 affordable housing units in the pipeline yet to be built out of 1,800 units total. While Council members are likely to implement at least some moderate rent protections, most on the panel agree that building additional housing units is the long-term solution.
“Housing, we need to embrace it,” Schultz said. “We need to add more housing to our community, and that’s why when we have a 148 unit project with 100% affordable units — more than we’ve ever had — a smile comes to my face. Perfect project? No. But it starts to make a dent into a serious problem that we have.”
To conclude the meeting, the Council directed city staff to look into the feasibility of closing the renovation permit loophole in AB 1482, extending eviction relief funds, expansions of the landlord tenant commission — adding additional powers for handling disputes, rent stabilization, data on vacancy rates and additional “menu items” that comparable cities have implemented.
“It’s encouraging to see that the majority of our Council understands that this is an emergency and that they’re taking next steps to remedy it,” said BTU member Alissandra Valdez. “BTU will continue to show up and speak out until the city passes permanent protections for tenants.”
Councilwoman Zizette Mullins expressed the importance of direct communication with the community, and invited both tenants and landlords to sit down with the Council. She proposed that the city’s newly established Housing Subcommittee, consisting of Councilwomen Nikki Perez and Tamala Takahashi, sit down with stakeholders.
“We need to sit down together. I want to see some kind of a consensus on what we are about to do and the action we are about to take. We need to hear back from everyone on this,” said Mullins.
Perez and Takahashi endorsed the idea.
“Tonight is not a time to make decisions, it’s a time to learn and to give staff the direction that they need to give options to the community. But if you have not met with me yet, let’s talk. If you’re a small landlord, a tenant, let’s grab coffee,” said Perez.