Inaugural Meeting of WeHo Renters Alliance Focuses on Earthquake Retrofit Costs

With the goal of creating an advocacy group to empower tenants in the city, the newly formed West Hollywood Renters Alliance held its inaugural meeting at Plummer Park Wednesday night with about two dozen enthusiastic people in attendance.

The group hopes to spread information about renters’ rights and also speak up for tenants in a city where 78% of the population is composed of renters. Believing there is power in numbers, the group plans to take a proactive stance on issues and lobby city officials for changes, much like the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance does on historic preservation issues or the West Hollywood Bicycle Coalition does in biking issues.

“I want us to know that we are empowered,” group organizer Amanda Smash Hyde, an eight-year resident of West Hollywood, told attendees. “Knowledge is power.”

The inaugural meeting of the West Hollywood Renters Alliance at Plummer Park on Wednesday.

Retrofitting apartment buildings vulnerable to potential collapse when a major earthquake inevitably hits Southern California proved to be a provocative topic during Wednesday’s meeting. The City Council recently passed a law requiring apartment owners to do the necessary upgrades. The city commissioned a study which identified 820 buildings that might be at risk. Once owners are officially notified, they have five years to complete the retrofits.

What’s unclear is who will pay for the costs of shoring up the buildings. City Hall is reviewing several options, which ultimately will be decided on by the City Council. One is to allow a building owner to pass along a share of the retrofit costs, with that rent increase ending after a certain period. Los Angeles allows such cost pass-throughs, limiting them to 50% of the retrofit costs, with a maximum increase of $38 a month for a period of no more than 10 years. San Francisco has a similar program that allows a building owner to pass through 100% of the retrofit costs over 20 years, with a limit set at 10% of the monthly rent or a maximum of $30.

City Councilmember Lauren Meister told the group the city has not determined how much, if any, of the cost the city will allow building owners to pass along to tenants. If they do, she said,it would be small amounts over several years’ time, perhaps something like $30 per month over five or ten years.

However, resident Richard Maggio, who serves on the city’s Rent Stabilization Commission, expressed concern that once rents are raised to include those retrofit costs, they might not go back down. While $30 a month might seem like a modest increase to some, it would amount to $360 a year, and that could hurt people on low or fixed incomes.

That idea of passing along the cost generated mixed reactions.

“I think it’s bullsh-t that we are going to have to pay for someone else’s investment,” Hyde said. She noted that if she gives someone a ride in her car, she doesn’t expect them to pay for an oil change.

Another attendee suggested if a tenant has to pay for upgrading a building, he should get equity in the building.

However, resident Stephanie Harker, a former member of the Rent Stabilization Commission, noted if an apartment building is damaged in an earthquake and red-tagged as being uninhabitable, then the tenants are on their own to find a new place to live.

“The landlord isn’t responsible to find us a new apartment [if the building is red-tagged],” Harker said. “Maybe $30 is a good thing for me to keep my home. Sort of like insurance.”

Another person at the meeting said that if renters have to cover some of the cost of the retrofitting, they should be allowed to take that cost off their income taxes.

Meister said the city could investigate that idea. However, resident Josh Kurpies, who also serves on the city’s Rent Stabilization Commission and works as a deputy for California Assemblymember Richard Bloom, said that idea might require approval from Sacramento lawmakers and/or federal lawmakers.

Another concern was the intrusion into people’s homes while the retrofitting is occurring and the possibility people might have to temporarily relocate during the work. However, Meister said the vast majority of the retrofitting work will be external.

A separate issue raised was establishing regular inspections of units by city employees to make sure things are up to code, such as plumbing and wiring, new carpeting installed on schedule (every seven years by the city code), and units painted on schedule (every four years).

However, Maggio reported that such inspections might make some tenants feel like their homes were being invaded. Maggio said that some years ago, the city did a pilot program of city employees inspecting units, but it was not continued.

Resident Wesley Bridle, who is serving as the Renters Alliance Projects Director, reminded attendees the Coalition for Economic Survival holds a walk-in tenants’ rights legal clinic each Saturday at 10 a.m. and Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Community Center building in Plummer Park. There, lawyers can answer legal questions tenants have about specific issues.

Hyde hopes the Renters Alliance can be proactive in finding areas where the city’s already strong rent stabilization laws need strengthening.

By example, Hyde pointed to the fact that “long-term basis” is not expressly defined in the city’s zoning code, an issue the WeHo Renters Alliance could have tackled if it had been in existence a few years earlier. That loophole allows the AKA West Hollywood at 8500 Sunset Boulevard to operate as a hotel (per a recent ruling by the city’s Planning Commission) with stays of 31 days or longer, even though the site is not zoned for a hotel.

After the meeting, Hyde told WEHOville she liked the group’s enthusiasm and is optimistic for the Renters Alliance’s future.
“I am super happy, I’m super excited by the turn out,” Hyde said. “I’m happy that it was all really positive. I think it gave people space where they could talk about their particular issues and feel safe and empowered. I think being able to share really helps people.”

The WeHo Renters Alliance tentatively plans to meet again on the final Wednesday in May.


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Eric Jon Schmidt
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Eric Jon Schmidt

78% of West Hollywood Residents are Renters. I am a Renter. I will be a Strong Advocate for Renters. I sued my Landlord on Larrabee Street. I prevailed. I was Plaintiff in Pro Per, which means I represented myself. I did everything myself including Depositions, Interrogatories, Admissions, Subpoenas for Documents, Motions, Court Appearances before the Judge, etc.. for two years right up until Jury Selection at which point we settled out of Court. The Landlord knew he would not win in Court. I was very prepared for the Jury Trial. The Landlord (Defendant) was Jerry Illoulian, Father of Jason Illoulian… Read more »

TriWest1
Guest
TriWest1

Today, I’ve come from a Rent Adjustment Hearing that was required due to lack of services that are provided by my landlord. Over the past 18 months, I’ve spent time sending emails and letters asking again and again for these basic repairs to take place. I then had to take the time to drive to the City, file the paperwork and then take additional time to prepare for the “hearing” and miss work to attend the hearing. The landlord representative dismissed my requests as tenant improvements. In 2008, one of my requests for new carpet, had previously been “granted” after… Read more »

PS
Guest
PS

Do you rent from Monem Corp?

PS
Guest
PS

Hank,

Just curious why my comment above is still waiting moderation after 2 days?

Patricia

SaveWeho
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SaveWeho

Stephanie Harker, a former member of the Rent Stabilization Commission, said that “if an apartment building is damaged in an earthquake and red-tagged as being uninhabitable, then the tenants are on their own to find a new place to live.” That is an absurd comment!!! There is no guarantee even if a bldg is retrofitted that it won’t have severe damage or be red-tagged. That comment just cant be justified. Regardless…there should be NO pass-through costs for tenants to upgrade a landlords personal investment. I just cant comprehend how this is even a discussion. What other situation does someone contribute… Read more »

Michael
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Michael

Did anyone bring up the subject of the insanely loud and persistent noise pollution (to put it mildly) which will plague WeHo and surrounding areas when 849 buildings start to be retrofitted over the next few years?

Randy
Guest
Randy

Doesn’t the safety of renters take precedence over noise pollution? What would you have them do? Leave these buildings as they are, so we can’t be bothered to hear the noise?

Yes on Renters
Guest
Yes on Renters

Total agreement w your comments.

Council Member Meister is far from “elitist” and has shown true dedication prior to becoming a commissioner and council member and her time in office. That opportunity is open to all as a private citizen to produce measurable results with a vast array of issues and residents. She never had a coattail campaign or one that was obsessively driven by t Me, Myself and I.

Manny
Guest
Manny

The analogy of how a car’s oil change is equal to the expense of retrofitting a building is probably one that need not be offered again. A more thoughtful and logical example was the comment that if a building is damaged during an earthquake the tenant is on their own so the $30 may be good insurance for the future.

If anything, it looks like this meeting offered good information to uninformed tenants. I hope that attendees were also told about the renters workshop that the city holds on a regular basis.

Monica Jefferson
Guest
Monica Jefferson

Thanks to Councilmember Meister for attending the meeting. It’s good to know that an elected city official cares enough to take the time to come and listen to what the average citizen has to say about the important issue of housing. @Mr. Schmidt, you need to look up the definition of “elitist”. You are obviously new to the arena, or you would know that Meister does “get it” and always has, long before she ran for office. Since you are running for council, you need to learn a bit of diplomacy and stop cramming your opinions down everyone’s throat.

Alison
Guest
Alison

They want to know how to strengthen the Rent Stabilization Law? How about making sure the landlords actually do the work the Rent Stabilization Board orders the landlords to do. A small (tiny) rent decrease is not enough for some landlords. There should be a time limit and then actual fines for the landlord. My landlord was ordered to replace my window coverings in 2012 and still has not done it. He refuses to do it and bullied me until I stopped taking the rent decrease. My window blinds in my living room are 29 years old yet he still… Read more »

PS
Guest
PS

Alison,

This sounds exactly like my landlord. Do you happen to rent from Monem Corp?

And I use to be very involved in tenant’s rights at my building on Flores St., but like you, I was the only one going to the City.

Now I am just fed up with the City too.

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

We can do something about it, if we get organized. We need to set up a website that identifies absentee and unresponsive Landlords. We can also start going to City Council Meetings and ask the Council if they received campaign donations from our Landlords. The only way there will every be equality is if there is transparency. Renters are NOT Second Class Citizens and we will not be treated like that. We can also start filing Lawsuits against our landlords and against the City Offices which are supposed to be helping us. I sued my Landlord in WEHO as Plaintiff… Read more »

Concerned Citizen
Guest
Concerned Citizen

Who is we?

Joshua88
Guest
Joshua88

There is a time limit. The inspector gives landlord thirty days.

You are right, though, the small decrease is just the cost of doing business for some.

I, too, am waiting for new carpet, blinds, other flooring that is due for replacement, and paint. Then there is outside.
I, too, am the only one who complains but I haven’t filed.

We also do not have a manager on the premises. (I know – horror.)

Awesome Weho
Guest
Awesome Weho

If the renters’ alliance held a fundraiser, and made a sizable donation to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, the whole retrofit fee would go away.

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

I would have been at that meeting last night, but I was out of town until this morning. I am a Renter and want to get involved in the Alliance. I think there should be a data base where renters can report bad landlords and bad buildings which should be updated daily. Bad Landlords should be identified. And slumlords should be required to make repairs. The City isn’t doing enough to ensure this. I also think that the renters should NOT be required to pay a dime for the retrofitting. That is why we pay our rent. Landlords should not… Read more »

Awesome Weho
Guest
Awesome Weho

Renters not being required to “pay a dime” is never going to happen, if for no other reason than the city already allows (capped) net-operating income increases for these kinds of huge expenses. The other alternative is the cost recovery increase, which no one seems to like. The City could reduce the cap to $20/month at 50% of cost, or some other renter-friendly scheme. And perhaps, a subsidy for dire financial cases, such as seniors on a fixed income. BTW, there is no such thing as “private businesses’ [sic] sidewalks.” Sidewalks are public ande city property. Raising parking meters by… Read more »

Robert Switzer
Guest
Robert Switzer

You’re running for Council and don’t know that sidewalks are public, not private, property?

You think Lauren Meister is elitist?

You’ll have to study up on basic West Hollywood information before I’d ever consider voting for you.