Santa Monica Approves New “Housing Status” Regulations

Santa Monica is leading the way in tenant protection with its groundbreaking amendment to the city’s housing anti-discrimination law. On February 13, the Santa Monica City Council took a bold step to support individuals facing housing discrimination, particularly those with non-traditional rental histories or who are currently or formerly homeless. This initiative marks a significant milestone in the fight against housing inequality, offering a fresh perspective on tenant rights and responsibilities.

New Protections for Diverse Housing Backgrounds

The amendment introduces “housing status” as a protected class within the Santa Monica Municipal Code. This encompasses individuals who are currently or formerly homeless, those living in transitional or temporary housing, and individuals without a traditional rental history. This move aims to level the playing field for applicants who may struggle to secure housing due to their unique circumstances.

Alternative Evidence of Reliability

One of the ordinance’s key features is the flexibility it introduces in the tenant screening process. Prospective tenants lacking traditional rental history, such as prior landlord references or rent payments, can now present alternative evidence of their reliability. This might include personal references, among other forms of verification. Landlords are obligated to consider this information when evaluating applications, offering a more inclusive approach to tenant screening.

Concerns from the Rental Industry

Despite the ordinance’s intentions, the opposition has raised concerns. Landlords and their associations argue that the mandate might ignore the practical realities of rental housing provision. Screening tenants, including verifying their rental history and financial stability, is deemed essential by landlords to manage their properties effectively. The opposition fears that the new law could complicate the screening process, potentially leading to subjective assessments of applicants’ suitability.

The Impact of New Regulations

Beyond housing status protection, the ordinance introduces several other changes affecting rental housing providers in Santa Monica:

  • Combatting “Bad Faith” Rent Increases: The law now prohibits excessive rent hikes deemed to be in bad faith. This includes increases following a failed “just cause” eviction attempt or tenant complaints, aiming to prevent retaliatory financial burdens on tenants.
  • Expanded Permanent Relocation Fees: In cases where tenants move out within 120 days following a rent increase exceeding CPI+5% or 10% (whichever is less), or after a temporary relocation lasting over six months, landlords must now pay permanent relocation fees. This measure seeks to protect tenants from significant, unexpected cost increases.
  • Regulations on Buyout Offers: The ordinance sets minimum amounts for buyout offers and agreements, ensuring that tenants are offered fair compensation if they choose to vacate their rental units under such agreements.

Santa Monica’s amended housing anti-discrimination law is a testament to the city’s commitment to fostering an inclusive, fair housing market. While the opposition highlights potential challenges for landlords, the ordinance’s broader aim is to protect vulnerable tenants from discrimination and unjust housing practices. As this law unfolds, it will be crucial to monitor its impacts on both tenants and rental housing providers, balancing the needs of both parties in Santa Monica’s evolving housing landscape.