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Landlord-Tenant Roundtable Sets Tone for Burbank City Policy

What happens when you sit tenants and landlords at a table and ask them to talk about rent control and evictions?

Mixed results, apparently. A recent roundtable of renters and property owners in Burbank showed that “mom-and-pop” landlords and tenants can find agreement on the issue of no-fault evictions, and both sides supported public housing solutions, but alignment on rent affordability may still be a pipe dream.

The 10-person landlord-tenant roundtable was assembled by Vice Mayor Nikki Perez and Councilwoman Tamala Takahashi as part of an ongoing effort by the City Council to incubate solutions on evictions, rent and cost increases and landlord and tenant responsibilities, among other issues that took center stage last year after a wave of no-fault evictions swept Burbank and provoked heated debate at City Hall.

Ideas that resulted from the roundtable will be worked into a report focusing on renter and landlord protection programs and policies that are “doable and fair,” said Takahashi. That report will come before the Council in April.

It’s not a new idea. The COVID-19 pandemic was the root of much strife between the two groups, and Los Angeles and other cities across the state attempted to find consensus among them by holding roundtables.

Since the pandemic, California housing prices have entered a tailspin. The average home in Burbank sells for $1.1 million, according to the city, causing rents to rise to $2,200 on average as costs to maintain properties have also become bloated nationwide.

City leaders continue to take measures to increase housing stock with hopes of driving prices down, but tenants have long-demanded interim solutions such as rent control to curb profiteering in the housing industry.

It looked like rent control was deadlocked after Burbank voters shot down a 2020 ballot initiative called Measure RC that would have implemented rent caps, but hopes were revived when the Council asked for a report on potential rent control measures in January 2023.

Then mass evictions hit Burbank in April 2023. The county’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium had expired, and many landlords who had not implemented increases for years served tenants with eviction notices, citing “intent to renovate,” only to relist properties shortly after for as much as double the price, according to online listings of those properties.

The Council enacted measures in September against this type of eviction — called a renovation eviction — requiring permits for such repairs and providing tenants with three months’ worth of relocation compensation.

The year 2023 saw rallying and organizing by renters, and support for rent control and other tenant protections swelled. Tenants and landlords traded blows for months at City Hall over the issues.

That’s when the idea for the roundtable was added to the city’s agenda as a way to get a pulse on what both groups agreed and disagreed on, and find solutions that Burbank renters and landlords preferred.

“We made it clear that 8-10% rent increases are actively displacing families in Burbank,” said Allisandra Valdez, one of five Burbank renters who participated in the roundtable, after staff gave a report on the roundtable results to the Council Tuesday.

Valdez said that her concern was met with landlords’ desire to have things “left as is,” she said adding that city studies show that 56% of Burbank tenants are rent burdened and one-third are considered “severely rent burdened.”

“Short term, it would be wonderful for tenants, but it would be disastrous for housing providers,” said Ron Bax on the topic of a 2% annual rent cap, adding that renters are unaware of management and financial requirements landlords face.

At the roundtable meeting, the two groups incubated solutions to the escalating cost of rents, evictions, landlord-tenant communication and the rise of corporate housing. They assigned votes of support and opposition to each idea in those categories.

Rent caps and other rent stabilization ideas posed by the group saw sweeping support by tenants and sweeping opposition by landlords.

“Balancing the need for rent to stay stable and predictable, and the reality of the fluctuating cost of property ownership was something everyone agreed upon,” said Takahashi.

High levels of support were expressed over the idea of allowing tenants to return to a home after a renovation is made, minimizing the level of tenant displacement if a homeowner has to make significant repairs. Other eviction controls also saw some support, like legal enforcement for “bad actors” on both sides, which could be managed by the city attorney’s office. Participants also widely endorsed expansions to city-provided legal support for tenants and landlords.

There was also widespread support for increased public housing between the two groups, a solution posed to combat the rise of corporate housing in Burbank. The idea of expanding the operations of the Burbank Housing Corporation — the city’s nonprofit that manages all of its publicly owned housing units — had no opposition among the group.

The Council hopes to have a comprehensive program ready by July 1, in time to be funded in-full come budget season. The program could provide a series of services and policies to support landlords and renters, many of which were earmarked as a result of the January roundtable.

Mayor Nick Schultz, and other members of the Council directed City Attorney Joe McDougall to move the issue to the “top of the heap” signaling the importance of the issue to the body.

First published in the February 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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