Apartment Owners Form Alliance Amid Push for Renters' Rights

By: 
Sean Belk
Keith Kennedy, (left), president of the Small Property Owners Alliance of Southern California (SPOA-SoCal), is pictured with Malcolm Bennett, SPOA-SoCal vice president and broker for International Realty & Investments of Long Beach.

As affordable housing advocates push for rent control and  just-cause for eviction laws aimed at protecting renters’ rights, Long Beach apartment owners have formed a new trade group to educate the public about existing state laws and what they say are “misnomers” about such local ordinances.

Called the Small Property Owners Alliance of Southern California (SPOA-SoCal), the group is considered an offshoot of the Apartment Association, California Southern Cities, Inc., a longtime trade association for property owners in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and Better Housing for Long Beach, a grassroots property owner group formed last year.

In an interview with the Beachcomber, SPOA-SoCal leaders said they hope to work with local and state government officials to develop solutions to a housing crisis of rising rents and continued low vacancy rates. Potential solutions, they said, include creating more opportunities for incentivizing affordable housing development and retaining high-paying employers.

SPOA-SoCal’s stated mission is to “educate local and statewide policy makers, other government officials, rental property owners and managers, as well as other allied industries and individuals about the rental housing industry in the greater Long Beach and Southern California areas.” The group also hopes to advance “the health and well-being of the rental housing industry.”

Group leaders said they want to dispel certain misrepresentations of the rental housing industry by local affordable housing advocates who continue to push for renters’ rights laws without taking into account how such local ordinances would impact landlords and the industry.    

“It seems like a lot of groups want to paint us landlords like we’re responsible for rising rents, but we’re not,” said Malcolm Bennett, SPOA-SoCal’s vice president and broker for International Realty & Investments in Long Beach.  “A lot of groups seem to want to pit landlords against tenants. We’re not against tenants. We need tenants. They are our customers. All we’re trying to do is have a level playing field.”

While Long Beach remains one of the most affordable coastal cities in California,  reports earlier this year showed rents grew faster than other cities in the nation. In fact, according to ApartmentList.com, rents in Long Beach jumped 7.8 percent as of March compared to the same time period last year. The San Francisco-based data reporting agency put Long Beach as having the 8th highest year-over-year rent increase in the nation.

As of the latest report for August, rents in Long Beach rose moderately by 3.5 percent compared to last year. Currently, median rents for one-bedroom apartments in Long Beach are $1,340 and rents for two-bedroom apartments are $1,720, according to the report.

City officials and experts attribute the rising rents to recent construction of luxury apartment complexes that offer numerous amenities at high lease rates.

Bennett, who disputes the reporting agency’s figures and adds that more reputable data can be found through CoStar Group, said landlords often increase rents to compensate for higher costs associated with maintaining properties and paying for increases in government fees and property taxes.

“Very seldom do we give more than a 5 or 10 percent increase in rents and that has a lot to do with our expenses,” said Bennett, who manages hundreds of rental properties in Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The formation of the new trade group, meanwhile, comes nearly two years after the Long Beach City Council established the proactive rental housing inspection program (PRHIP), which amended the city’s code enforcement for inspecting rental housing by increasing penalties on owners for not complying with public health and safety standards.

In many ways, the program, which was supported by the nonprofit affordable housing advocacy group Housing Long Beach, was considered a “first step” to protecting renters’ rights in the city.

While affordable housing advocates also requested a rent escrow account program (REAP), which would have allowed tenants in “substandard” dwellings to pay rent to the city until violations are corrected, the city council denied the program after city staff found it would cost too much to manage.

Still, affordable housing advocacy groups have said more needs to be done to protect renters’ rights in Long Beach.

“A lot of Long Beach renters are still being displaced on a regular basis unfortunately,” said Josh Butler, executive director of Housing Long Beach. “In fact, Long Beach is the largest population of renters on the West Coast from San Diego all the way up to Seattle with no renter protections.”

Last year, Housing Long Beach launched a campaign for a just-cause eviction ordinance that would require tenants displaced due to no fault of their own, such as for a reconstruction that would then allow a landlord to raise the rent, to be given relocation assistance. However, the city council has yet to take up any action on such an ordinance or any form of rent control.

Keith Kennedy, president of SPOA-SoCal who owns and manages rental properties in Long Beach, said that imposing rent control, such as in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, would only make matters worse by reducing the supply of available rental units.

“We have fewer rental units in Los Angeles since they implemented rent control and less diversity in Santa Monica,” he said, adding that such laws have inadvertently made areas less affordable since the government has price-fixed the rental housing market.

Bennett added that financial institutions often won’t lend to developers and property owners in rent-controlled areas. Capping rent hikes at 3 percent, for instance, not only prevents new affordable housing development but also impacts a landlord’s ability to invest in capital improvements, he said.

Such limitations, Bennett said, hinders the local economy since many service providers and repair workers rely on business from landlords. Instead, he said creating incentives for developers to build more affordable housing such as through density bonuses or lessening parking requirements while maintaining a free “move up” market would better alleviate the housing crisis.

“We feel that [rent control] hurts the economy because we would have [less] repair people doing repairs and making improvements,” Bennett said. “I think there’s a little bit of a misnomer about rent control and what it really does and how it affects not only owners but lending institutions as well.”

However, Butler said the housing crisis is more a public health issue than about economics. He agrees the city should find ways to encourage more affordable housing development but should address tenants’ rights as well.

Such renter protections would create “stability” for the community and ensure healthy homes for residents, Butler said, adding that many people living in “substandard conditions” are afraid to speak up because they have no tenants’ rights and nowhere else to go.

“We can’t build our way out of this problem,” he said. “It takes years to build new units and we’re way behind. We have to keep building, but we also have to address tenants’ rights.”

sean@beachcomber.news

Category:

Comments

Sean,

Any status update regarding possibility of rent control getting on the upcoming ballot?

Dennis
dkr3990@gmail.com

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Beachcomber

Copyright 2020 Beeler & Associates.

All rights reserved. Contents may not be reproduced or transmitted – by any means – without publisher's written permission.