L.A. County supervisors propose adopting permanent rental protections

Photographs by Al Seib  Los Angeles Times SUPPORTERS of rent control rally outside the L.A. County supervisors meeting where the board advanced rules to limit rent increases.
Supporters of rent control rally outside a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting in September 2019. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday proposed permanently adopting several rental assistance programs, as rental protections — many of which were put in place during the early days of the pandemic — are set to expire at the end of the year.

Some of the proposals would be the first of their kind in L.A. County, including allowing tenants to avoid being evicted if they fall behind on about a month's rent.

Although evictions or unlawful detainers did not completely stop during the pandemic, many of the rental protections cut down the number of evictions. County staff plan to embark on a massive outreach effort to let tenants and landlords know that those protections will dissolve.

The county will push to make several programs permanent, which will help low-income tenants with access to legal services and rental assistance and will establish limitations on the types of questions landlords can ask renters.

County staff will return to the supervisors over the next few months with an analysis of the proposed updates.

Other proposals include establishing monetary thresholds for nonpayment evictions, meaning that a landlord could be blocked by the courts if a tenant owes less than a certain amount on their rent. The county will also consider providing assistance to mom-and-pop landlords if they promise not to evict a tenant during a certain period of time.

Rent increases could be capped for some apartment units to 3% through 2024.

“We want people who owe, like, a third of one month’s rent not to be kicked out,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said during the board meeting.

Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis are co-authors of many of the proposals.

Solis said the recent results from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority's annual count showed a 4% increase in people experiencing homelessness from 2020 to 2022.

“As a county, we understand this number could have been greater if it weren’t for the many relief programs we enacted these past two and a half years," Solis said in a statement.

The motion passed 4 to 1, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger casting her dissenting vote.

Supervisor Holly Mitchell and Kuehl also asked county staff to make the eviction support program Stay Housed L.A. a permanent service for low-income tenants that would be maintained under the county Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. The program would aim to provide legal defense for tenants by 2027.

"The challenges that tenants in eviction cases encounter when seeking legal aid are indicative of a large gap between the civil legal needs of low-income people and the resources available to meet those needs," Mitchell and Kuehl said in their proposal, which passed with unanimous approval.

Although the proposals passed, landlords argue they were not being considered in the county decision.

In a letter to the board, the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. said the proposals on limiting screening questions for renters was submitted with no input from landlords.

"These changes will further burden landlords who are already struggling under the tenant protections granted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Victor Berrellez, the group's chair.

Barger said the county has asked a lot from landlords with the rent protections put in place during the pandemic and now they will be limited in how they can adapt to hyper-inflation and called the board's motion a "serious blow to every property owner who maintains rental properties" in the unincorporated parts of the county.

"I sincerely hope these new regulations don’t negatively impact our already scarce housing supply by having landlords forego listing their units," Barger said in a statement.

Attorney Jonathan Jager with the nonprofit Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, which provides free eviction defense to low-income tenants, says the county is building on the protections it set in place during the pandemic.

"The county painted in broad-brush protections during the start of the pandemic, which benefited people from losing their homes and allowed those people to shelter in place," Jager told The Times. "They're taking great steps to see which protections were most significant to stop people from being evicted and becoming homeless. Now, the [county] is shading in the details of those protections."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.