The relationship between tenants and landlords often has the potential to get heated, and just as there are protections in place to prevent tenants from harassing landlords, so too are tenants protected against mistreatment by their landlords. And now, tenants in Los Angeles will have an easier time suing their landlords for misconduct.
New protections for tenants
Los Angeles' Anti-Harassment of Tenants Ordinance was recently passed by the city. The ordinance, which is similar to measures that are already in place in San Francisco and Santa Monica, expands the scope of behaviors on landlords' part that could be grounds for a harassment lawsuit on tenants' part.
Specifically, tenants in Los Angeles can now pursue legal action against their landlords for actions such as:
- Failing to perform necessary repairs
- Refusing to acknowledge receipt of tenant payments
- Inquiring about a tenant's immigration status
Local civil courts can award tenants up to $10,000 per landlord violation,and an additional $5,000 if the tenant is over 65 or disabled. The ordinance also classifies tenant harassment as a criminal misdemeanor.
A shaky time for landlord-tenant relationships
This new set of rules is coming at a time when the relationship between landlords and the people they rent to is already on thin ice -- both in Los Angeles as well as the rest of the county. In response to the massive unemployment crisis the pandemic fueled, the CDC put an eviction ban into place last year that only recently expired. And just days later, a new ban was put into place prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants on the basis of not paying rent through early October.
Landlords have been extremely unhappy with these bans, to say the least. And rightfully so -- the financial impact on landlords has been so brutal that an estimated 12% have already been completely driven out of business. However, at a time when landlords may be growing increasingly frustrated, an added set of tenant protections may not be a terrible thing for tenants.
Of course, for Los Angeles landlords, this new set of rules may read like a slap in the face. In California, only 5% of the $5.2 billion in designated rent relief funds has made it into the pockets of landlords who are owed back rent. Now, as many await their money, they also have to take extra care to avoid tenant confrontations or risk being sued for harassment.
Will more cities follow suit?
Right now, the landlord-tenant climate is pretty ugly. If the situation deteriorates further, we could see more cities impose comparable guidelines to offer tenants the maximum amount of protection. And that's something real estate investors with income properties in their portfolios should be aware of.
That said, there's an easy way to appease aggravated landlords right now -- send out more rent relief money quickly. All told, there's a $45 billion pot of money available to landlords on a national level.
While it's never acceptable for a landlord to harass a tenant, even in situations where landlords are growing increasingly desperate to get paid, the reality is that this new set of rules in Los Angeles may read as yet another instance where the law seems to give landlords the short end of the stick. And if more cities adopt similar policies, the appeal of being a landlord in the first place is likely to wane.