Rent Stabilization Commission to be Dissolved

During a special meeting on May 14, a City Council ad hoc committee agreed that the Rent Stabilization Commission has outlived its original mandate and recommended it be dissolved.     

The commission has long been hampered by unfilled vacancies, and Vice Mayor Sharona Nazarian and Councilmember Craig Corman—who serve as City Council liaisons on the Commission Standardization Ad-Hoc Committee—agreed with staff’s conclusion that there was no meaningful work left for the commission to do. 

“The task at hand right now is looking at the standardization of this commission and the tasks that were handed to them. And as of now, those have all been fulfilled,” Nazarian said.     

In addition to dissolving the commission, the ad hoc committee also recommended changing the City Code so that all tenant/landlord disputes are handled by a designated hearing officer. 

Currently, hearing officers are given authority over certain appeals and applications, while a City Council subcommittee appointed by the mayor is charged with hearing disruptive tenant applications, according to a staff report. 

“Dealing with a dispute is a very delicate thing,” Nazarian said. “We try to see ourselves as a huge family and a community … and for City Council members to tell someone, especially in this climate, that they need to be evicted, it just doesn’t sit well.” 

The commission was formed in April 2019, following years of Community Development Department outreach about potential revisions to the Rent Stabilization Ordinance. After several revisions were implemented, the commission was formed as an advisory body of community stakeholders, and it was tasked with taking a closer look at six topics. 

These included modifications to the Major Remodel eviction category, regulations regarding the Cash for Keys process, evaluation of relocation fees in certain situations, reviewing habitability standards and the implementation of a proactive inspection program and a review of the Landlord Tenant Handbook.  

Comprising an equal number of landlords, tenants and at-large representatives, the commission recommended revisions to the Landlord Tenant Handbook that have been adopted by City Council, while others are awaiting further discussion, Assistant City Manager Ryan Gohlich said.   

But from the beginning, the commission’s structure made it difficult to function as planned, Corman said. The at-large members were meant to cast the tie breaking vote, but because there was an equal number, this rarely happened, Corman said.

Mark Elliot, founder of the Beverly Hills Renters’ Alliance, said that the commission was also hamstrung by a lack of communication with residents as well and with its own members and liaisons.  

“The Commission never engaged with the community, never talked about anything,” Elliot said. “That’s a huge missed opportunity. And without that function, I think the commission served sort of no function at all.”     

Compounding these problems was the persistent challenge of filling commission vacancies. Starting July 1, the commission will have five vacancies, meaning a quorum—a meeting with two members of the same group—will be permanently out of reach, City Clerk Huma Ahmed said. 

Responding to a question from Nazarian, Ahmed said that two potential commissioners had been selected from the interview process, but both ended up declining to move forward. She also recruited twice for the at-large positions and received no applications, she said. 

Some potential applicants have also been wary of newly implemented background checks, adding to the challenges, Ahmed said. The background checks include criminal convictions, bankruptcies, social media posts and any revocation of professional licenses, Assistant City Manager Ryan Gohlich added. 

“While [applicants] are not generally opposed to a background check, what they had concerns with was what they felt was some personal information, such as divorces,” Ahmed said. “It’s a very detailed background check.”  

The Rent Stabilization Commission is not the only one that has had trouble finding members.

According to Ahmed, the Architectural Commission, Arts and Culture Commission, Charitable Solicitations Commission, Health and Safety Commission and Traffic and Parking Commission each has one vacancy, while the Cultural Heritage Commission—on which Corman served before being elected City Councilmember— has two vacancies. 

While Ahmed wasn’t exactly sure why applications have slowed in recent years, she thinks it is partly due to the pandemic. Serving on a commission requires a significant time commitment, and the pandemic prompted many to rethink how they spent their spare time, Ahmed said.   

On occasion, applicants have also been unqualified, Ahmed said. Interview panelists have rejected an entire group of applicants who did not appear knowledgeable of the commission for which they were applying, she added.  

“Please know about the commission,” Ahmed said. “You can’t just ask the panel what is it that we do here.”  

Given the multiple vacancies, Nazarian and Corman recommended granting a one-time exemption for multiple commissions and extending the recruitment period until July.  

Nazarian also noted that serving on a commission is a rewarding experience and urged interested applicants to put their best foot forward. 

“Commissions are very important, they serve as the eyes and ears of the City Council,” Nazarian said. “We encourage all to apply.” 

The ad hoc committee’s recommendations will now go before City Council for full approval. 

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