In response to what has been described as an extreme shortage of affordable housing in the City of Los Angeles, the City has adopted civil and criminal remedies to curb unlawful harassment against tenants. As explained below, the new statute increases liabilities and risk to residential landlords.
On August 6, 2021, the City passed an ordinance adding Article 5.3 to the Los Angeles Municipal Code establishing a Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance, and Section 151.33 incorporating the protections in the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance. The Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance is purported by the City to be in response to a 2018 investigation of approximately 10,000 harassment complaints by tenants residing in rent-stabilized units in the City of Los Angeles. These complaints stemmed from claims of illegal rent increases, illegal evictions, failure to post required notifications, non-registration of rental units, illegal tenant buy-out agreements, and denial of relocation assistance. While the new ordinance is aimed to curtail such conduct and other harassing behaviors in communities with tenants who have fewer affordable housing options and limited resources to seek assistance, it creates new risks and liabilities to residential landlords exposing landlords to statutory penalties, attorney’s fees and in some cases, even criminal prosecution.
The Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance prohibits a landlord from knowingly and willfully engaging in a course of conduct that serves no lawful purpose, is directed at specific tenants, and causes detriment and harm. This includes, but is not limited to:
(1) Reducing or eliminating housing services required by a lease, contract, or law, including the elimination of parking if provided in the lease, with some exceptions.
(2) Failing to perform and timely complete necessary repairs and maintenance or failure to follow applicable industry standards to minimize exposure to noise, dust, lead paint, asbestos, or other building materials with potentially harmful health impacts.
(3) Abusing the right of access into a rental unit by violating California Civil Code section 1954 or by entering or photographing portions of a rental unit beyond the scope of a lawful entry or inspection.
(4) Threatening a tenant with physical harm.
(5) Attempting to coerce the tenant to vacate with offer(s) of payments.
(6) Misrepresenting to a tenant that the tenant is required to vacate or enticing a tenant to vacate through an intentional misrepresentation or concealment or omission of a material fact.
(7) Threatening or taking action to terminate any tenancy based on facts which the landlord has no reasonable cause to believe to be true.
(8) Threatening or engaging in any act or omission which interferes with the tenant’s right to use and enjoy the rental unit or renders the unit uninhabitable.
(9) Refusing to acknowledge or accept lawful rent payments.
(10) Inquiring into the immigration or citizenship status of a tenant or prospective tenant.
(11) Disclosing or threatening to disclose the immigration or citizenship status of a tenant.
(12) Disclosing or threatening to disclose information about a tenant to any government entity for engaging in legally protected activities or to influence them to vacate.
(13) Engaging in an activity prohibited by federal, state, or local housing anti-discrimination laws.
(14) Retaliating, threatening, or interfering with tenant organizing activities.
(15) Interfering with or requesting information that violates a tenant’s right to privacy.
(16) Engaging in any other repeated acts or omissions that substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace, or quiet of a tenant and that cause, are likely to cause, or are intended to cause a tenant to surrender or waive any tenancy rights.
The tenants protected by the ordinance include any tenant, subtenant, or any other person entitled to use or occupy the rental unit. The tenant may use the protections afforded by the Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance as a defense in an unlawful detainer action or as the basis of a private action against a landlord. The remedies available in a civil proceeding include compensatory damages, rent refunds, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, imposition of civil penalties up to $10,000 per violation, relocation costs, and other relief deemed appropriate by the court, with the imposition of additional civil penalties available to tenants who are disabled or over the age of 65. Violations of this Ordinance may also be criminally punishable as an infraction or misdemeanor.
The Ordinance targets all residential landlords because it applies to all types of dwelling units in the City of Los Angeles—single-family residences, duplexes, condominiums, mobile homes, and recreational vehicles—including efficiency dwelling units, guest rooms, and suites, the land and buildings appurtenant thereto, and garage and parking facilities. “Landlords” subject to the Ordinance include not only the owners of rental units, but also any lessor, sublessor, manager, and/or any person, law firm, or entity having any legal or equitable right of ownership or possession or the right to lease or receive rent for the use and occupancy of a rental unit, and whether acting as principal or through an agent or representative or successor of any of the foregoing.
Landlords need to pay special attention to subpart (2) of the Ordinance which imposes liability against landlords by “[f]ailing to perform and timely complete necessary repairs and maintenance or failure to follow applicable industry standards to minimize exposure to noise, dust, lead paint, asbestos, or other building materials with potentially harmful health impacts.” The term “timely” is vague and undefined in the Ordinance. Accordingly, a tenant who issues a maintenance request where repairs are not completed expeditiously could arguably sue a landlord under violation of this Ordinance. Hence, it is anticipated that moving forward, this Ordinance will be relied upon by tenant’s rights attorneys who sue landlords for habitability claims within the City of Los Angeles. Accordingly, it is imperative that residential landlords ensure that they respond to and complete repair requests within a timely manner. Furthermore, while the Ordinance is not intended to prevent lawful tenant evictions, landlords should take special care to ensure their conduct cannot be construed as “harassment” prohibited by the Ordinance.
For more information contact:
(310) 734- 3383
Jillian N. Stevenson is an associate in the Los Angeles and Orange County offices of Gibbs Giden. Her practice focuses on a broad range of commercial litigation, with a concentration on construction disputes and insurance defense. She litigates landlord-tenant issues, real property disputes, construction defect claims, commercial collection matters, and “toxic” mold claims. Ms. Stevenson’s practice also covers business and commercial transactions, which includes negotiating and preparing sales agreements, construction contracts, and credit agreements.
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