The Beverly Hills City Council indicated support for ending the city’s moratorium on evictions and rent increases by April at its Oct. 26 meeting. Other issues tackled by the Council included signing on to a letter opposing the construction of a convention center in Lithuania on a 500-year-old Jewish cemetery. The Council also extended the city’s medical use ordinance for another year.
The Council first adopted eviction protections for renters in March 2020 near the start of the pandemic. At the time, analysts and policymakers worried that economic lockdowns could lead to a tidal wave of evictions. Since then, the Council has adopted newer versions of the protections, passing a moratorium on evictions and rent increases most recently in September 2020.
The ordinance bars landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent, provided the tenants can prove that COVID-19 substantially impacted their ability to do so. It also prohibits no-fault evictions, except if the eviction is necessary for the health and safety of tenants, neighbors, or the landlord. Finally, the ordinance imposes a moratorium on annual rent increases for rent stabilized units.
At the Oct. 26 hearing, the Council discussed recommendations by the Rent Stabilization Commission to end the moratoria at the same time as the state eviction ban, which expired this past Sept. 30.
Councilmember Lester Friedman expressed optimism that ending the protections would not lead to a wave of evictions. “I am a believer that landlords do not want vacancies. They want to work with people. Having somebody moved out is an expense,” he said.
But City Council members voiced concern over the possibility of back-to-back rent increases by landlords. Each year, the city calculates rent increases for rent stabilized units based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). For units that have delayed rent increases twice over the course of the moratorium, landlords could effectively raise the rent twice in one go–once for each deferred increase. According to the Community Development Department’s Deputy Director of Rent Stabilization, Helen Morales, this could mean some tenants would face an increase by as much as 8%.
Vice Mayor Lili Bosse said that the number “horrified” her. “Even though I do feel that things are better [and] we’re moving in the right direction, I think it would be a tremendous hardship to expect for any tenant to pay two times the CPI at one time,” she said.
City Attorney Laurence Wiener explained the limitations of what the city could do. While the city could delay the first rent increase to 2022, it also has to allow landlords to recoup the amount they would have made were it not for the moratorium. According to Wiener, landlords are constitutionally entitled to make a fair rate of return on their investment, which the city calculates using the CPI.
Councilmember Julian Gold suggested that the city allow landlords to spread out the rent increases over multiple years to soften the blow to tenants.
City staff will prepare an amendment to the ordinance per the Council’s instructions. The City Council will vote on the amendment at a later date.
The City Council also authorized Mayor Wunderlich to sign a letter addressed to Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida imonyt?. The letter, written by the Save Vilna Coalition, expresses opposition to a planned conference center that would be developed on an existing Jewish cemetery.
“The Snipiskes Jewish cemetery is an important heritage site for Lithuanian Jewry and their descendants,” the letter reads. Over 50,000 graves lie on the site, according to the letter.
In 2015, the Lithuanian government passed a resolution authorizing the development of an international conference center in the capital city of Vilnius. The issue reemerged on Aug. 25, 2021, when the Vilnius City Council formally urged authorities to begin construction on the center.
The letter signed by Wunderlich describes the move as in violation of international law and the Lithuanian constitution.
Finally, the City Council extended the urgency ordinance authorizing the conversion of existing commercial spaces to medical uses for another year.