Long Beach will require landlords to pay tenants’ moving fees

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Renters in Long Beach facing steep rent hikes will get a little lifeline.

Tenants who choose to move out when their rent is hiked more than 10 percent will get as much as$4,500 to help with moving expenses under a tenant relocation assistance ordinance finalized and approved on six-to-three vote by the Long Beach City Council on Tuesday night.

The decision was met with audible cheers from renters’ rights advocates in City Hall, who have pushed the council to help tenants hit with extreme rent increases.

“Relocation assistance is necessary, because tenants do not have the money to move,” Joshua Christian, with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, told the council. “My clients don’t have $1,000 for security deposit and first and last month’s rent.”

The fees—which will be paid by landlords—will range from $2,706 to $4,500, depending on the number of bedrooms in the unit.

They are aimed at deterring landlords from evicting tenants, as Long Beach, much like the rest of the Los Angeles region, grapples with rising housing costs, sluggish wages, and a homelessness crisis.

“This is certainly a protection for tenants,” said Long Beach City Councilmember Lena Gonzalez.

The city, she said, has introduced plans for affordable housing and homeless shelters, only to have residents block them. “We’ve been told ‘no, not in our backyard,’” Gonzalez said. “This time we’re going to say ‘yes, yes in our backyard.’”

The cost of rent in the coastal city, where about 60 percent of residents are renters, has spiked 25.8 percent over the past five years (to an average of $1,418 for a one bedroom in February) as vacancy rates took a dive, according to a report from the city’s development services department. That has left many renters with fewer housing options.

“It’s really stressful to find a new place to live in Long Beach, given our crisis,” said Christine E. Petit, director of Long Beach Forward, a local organization that works with low income communities of color.

Tenants will be eligible for relocation assistance in three scenarios:

  • When their rent increases 10 percent or more in a 12-month period.
  • When their landlord issues a notice to vacate in order to rehabilitate the unit.
  • If they’re in “good standing” but receive an eviction notice. To be in good standing, a tenant has to have lived in the unit for more than one year and be current on rent, among other things.

Renters in single-family homes, duplexes, and triplexes, and some fourplexes will not be eligible, exemptions that were designed to help mom and pop landlords.

Landlords will be required to pay half of the payment before the tenant moves out, and half five days after they’ve vacated—a provision that groups like Long Beach Forward and the Legal Aid Foundation tried unsuccessfully to change, arguing the money should be paid entirely upfront.

Dozens of property owners and real estate agents have voiced opposition to the fees, arguing it was a form of rent control that would have “unintended consequences.” (Unlike several nearby cities, including the cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Long Beach does not have a rent control law).

“If you’re going to ladle onto property owners an additional $4,500 per unit per year potentially… there’s only one place it comes from: the rent that’s collected from tenants,” said Linda Olson, who described herself as a small property owner.

As is standard with new ordinances, the council has to vote on the program one more time before it’s officially on the books. If approved the second time, it will go into effect August 1.

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