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What you need to know about LA’s proposed ban on tenant harassment

Los Angeles is set to ban landlords from harassing tenants, under a new law meant to strengthen legal protections for tenants facing coercion and abuse. The order will be drafted by city lawyers after Los Angeles City Council backed the plan on Wednesday.

What exactly is prohibited by this law?

The LA order, as proposed, will define “tenant harassment” as “willful and willful conduct” directed at a specific tenant (s) that causes harm and has “no legitimate aim”.

Here are some specific examples included in the draft ordinance:

– Threaten tenants with physical damage
– Eliminate housing services required under a lease
– Deceive residents to find out if they are forced to move
– Request information that violates the privacy of tenants “except legal authorization”
– Disclose a tenant’s immigration status to others or threaten to do so
– Attempt to force a tenant to leave by offering him payment
– Neglecting to make repairs or do maintenance
– Failure to meet standards to protect tenants from asbestos, dust, lead paint and other health risks
– Retaliation against tenants for forming a tenants association or interfering in tenant organizing efforts
– Incorrect entry into rental accommodation or taking photos indoors “beyond the scope of an entry or legal inspection”
– Do anything to make the unit “unfit for human habitation”
– Refusal to recognize or accept lawful rent payments

Beyond these examples and others stated in the ordinance, the law prohibits any action which “interferes or significantly disturbs the comfort, rest, peace or tranquility of a tenant” and is intended to bring the tenant to abandon his home.

What happens if an owner breaks these rules?

Under the planned order, tenants or their representatives can go to court to arrest landlords who break the law, asking for civil penalties of up to $ 10,000 per violation, plus $ 5,000 each for violations. affecting elderly or disabled tenants. Violation of the ordinance can be punished either as a misdemeanor or as an offense.

Tenants may also be awarded attorney fees, damages, rent refunds and “other appropriate remedies” if they prevail in court, according to the proposed law. Tenant advocates have pushed unsuccessfully to change wording to say that successful tenants “must” receive attorney fees, arguing that this would ensure more attorneys agree to take on such cases.

If it turns out that a landlord has harassed someone outside of a rent-stabilized apartment, the landlord may be prohibited from charging more to the next tenant who follows that person. This penalty is intended to remove the financial incentive for a landlord to hunt a long-time tenant who pays a lower rate so that he can charge a new tenant more.

Tenants could also use this harassment as a defense in court against an attempted eviction.

Do tenants have to notify landlords before suing them?

In some cases. Under the proposed law, tenants cannot sue their landlords for allegations of neglected repairs or failure to meet standards to minimize dust, asbestos and other health risks, unless that they have provided written notice of the alleged violation and that the owner has not resolved the issue. within a “reasonable time”.

Why did tenant advocates fight for this new law?

Renter groups have said the LA ordinance will give tenants a crucial tool in the fight against harassment intended to push them out of their homes as rents rise. Similar rules exist in San Francisco, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood.

At a press conference in front of town hall on Wednesday, tenants said they had suffered a power cut, threatened with arrest and other indignities from their landlords.

Lawyers have argued that by clarifying what types of actions constitute harassment, the new ordinance will make it easier for aggrieved tenants to pursue a case, rather than trying to determine whether it is covered by existing laws.

Homeowner groups, in turn, have argued that the new law will trigger baseless claims and have complained that it fails to address cases in which tenants harass landlords.

Are there any sticking points?

Tenant groups said they were happy to see the law move forward on Wednesday, but expressed concern that defining harassment as something without a “legal purpose” might make it harder for tenants to prove their case when ‘an owner does something that has a legal justification, but is nevertheless intended to target a resident.

During Wednesday’s meeting, City Councilor Nithya Raman asked about these concerns. Harassment “takes many different forms, but sometimes it looks like completely legal actions that a landlord is allowed to take, such as removing a parking space,” Raman said.

David Michaelson of the city attorney’s office replied that in such a case it would be “something that a court should ultimately decide.” City Councilor Gil Cedillo said if the city’s lawyers could come up with a better wording, he would support it, but “there is a point where we have to move forward and not make perfection the enemy of the government. good”.

What is happening now?

Council members voted on Wednesday to ask the city attorney to prepare a revised version of the order that includes council-supported amendments. The final text of the law will be presented again to the council for approval.

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