Judge issues tentative ruling on challenge to LA’s tenant protections

 A Los Angeles judge has issued a tentative ruling on how much rent a tenant must owe before being booted from an apartment and whether landlords should pay tenants to relocate.

Judge Mitchell Beckloff, responding to a challenge filed by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles to two L.A. tenant protection ordinances, indicated he would likely leave the relocation assistance ordinance in place but rescind the eviction threshold law, Courthouse News Service reported. 

After the published decision, the judge heard oral arguments this week over a pair of ordinances passed by the City Council in February. 

One of the laws raised the amount of rent money on which tenants must owe before they can be evicted for non-payment of rent. 

The other forces landlords to pay a relocation fee to tenants who have decided to move out after a rent increase above a certain level. 

After more than an hour of oral arguments, the judge appeared to waver, but gave no indication as to what he might do. 

For years, Los Angeles was under pressure from tenants rights groups to adopt stronger rent controls and eviction protections. The city and county enacted a strict limit on evictions for non-payment of rent at the dawn of the pandemic 2020, and lifted them this year.

The city then passed regulations to limit evictions and offer rental assistance to Angelenos.

The eviction threshold law raises the amount of unpaid rent the tenant must owe a landlord before being subject to a “just cause” eviction.

Before, that threshold was effectively a dollar. Now, it’s one month of the fair-market rate as set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

This year, that amounts to $1,747 for a one-bedroom apartment, $2,222 for a two-bedroom unit and $2,888 for a three-bedroom, according to Courthouse News. So if a tenant owes $1,500, he or she can’t be evicted — even if the monthly rent is less than $1,500. 

The Apartment Association lawsuit, filed in March, argued that the ordinance was in conflict with state law, which says that a landlord may serve three-day notice to pay rent or leave “at any time within one year after the rent becomes due” — no matter how much is actually due.

“It has the purpose and effect of pushing that deadline out in the future,” AAGLA lawyer Peter Howell told the court. “I think that’s what the city is trying to accomplish here, pushing that time out, to give people additional time to pay their rent.”

The judge jokingly referred to this as Howell’s “wolf in sheep’s clothing theory” — but suggested he was still on the fence about the fate of the ordinance, calling it a close call.

Beckloff suggested that he was more decided on the relocation fee ordinance, which he said he was likely to leave in place in his tentative ruling. 

— Dana Bartholomew

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