When tenants are cheated out of rent money

LOS ANGELES RENT CONTROL.

Are you under a lease agreement? Are you month-to month? Are you in a rent control building? Let’s examine some of the ways you can be cheated out of your rent money and be paying what they call “illegal rent”.

LADWP Charged with Criminal Fraud

Your lease for say $1200 a month may seem straight forward, even a month to month will seem pretty simple to understand. One of the first and easiest ways for an owner to cheat you is to just simply calculate the rent incorrectly when it comes to increase time. Landlords know there are all kinds of tenants: some will question $5.00, some will question $100, some will question repairs, many will not question repairs; some tenants will fight over repairs for months, many tenants will not fight at all. It may seem on the surface that a rent controlled building will offer cheaper rent, controlled rent increases, and greater protection, but in many cases because you are paying lower rent you will be subject to harassment and intimidation from the owner and the city rent control employees may retaliate against you as well. With rent control agreements, there may be numerous fees tacked on like the SCEP fee, and the reimbursement of the unit registration fee. All these fees and the annual rent increase may result in your rent calculated with a few dollars too low or a few dollars too high, and if you don’t catch the error, it will compound itself year after year. Nine out of ten people will trust the landlord and not question the math. BEWARE of that trap.

The second biggest way tenants are cheated is due to lack of repairs. There are laws that state your rent should be reduced if you do not receive repairs; there are laws that state you should receive a rent reimbursement if services are reduced. Some of these rights to damages due to lack of repairs may be found under federal, state, or local law. It is easy for owners to cheat you out of repairs simply because they know most tenants will not spend the time or money to fight; landlords also know that in many cases the community agencies and courts will not help the tenant. Some laws/cases state that lack of repairs must be substantial; other cases and laws hold that lack of repairs must be related to health and safety or denial of housing services. It pays to make sure that repair obligations and especially deadlines are spelled out in the rental/lease agreement in specific terms.

Each state may be different so let’s examine how Los Angeles, a rent control city, defines housing services. Remember even if you are not in a rent control building, you will still have protection under other local and state housing laws.

It is called  “REDUCTION IN HOUSING SERVICES” and RAC guidelines, Los Angeles.

“The Rent Adjustment Commission (the Commission) promulgates these regulations on reduction in housing services so that a corresponding reduction in rent can be determined to avoid an increase in rent in violation of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (LAMC Sec. 151.02, Definition of Rent Increase)”. [Editor: LAMC is the Los Angeles Municipal Code]

 “A tenant rents an apartment with the appurtenant housing services available at the time of renting the apartment. Landlords who reduce housing services without a corresponding reduction in rent effectuate an increase in rent.”

“Housing services are services that are connected with the use or occupancy of a rental unit including, but not limited to, utilities (including light, heat, water and telephone), ordinary repairs or replacement, and maintenance including painting. The term also includes the provision of elevator service, laundry facilities and privileges, common recreational facilities, janitor service, resident manager, refuse removal, furnishings, food service, parking and any other benefits, privileges or facilities. (LAMC Sec. 151.02, Definition of Housing Services).”

“If a housing service is temporarily interrupted as the necessary result of needed repairs, then the Los Angeles Department may use this fact to decide against a corresponding reduction in rent when the landlord is not taking an unreasonable amount of time to restore the services.

“The reduction of rent may not exceed 3 years retroactive from the date of filing complaint with HCIDLA.”

Editor: The city RAC value rent reductions between $10 to $380 per month.

All this sounds real good on paper. But in practice…..once I witnessed a lack of resident manager for six months. Finally rent control department granted me a rent reimbursement of about $4.00 because it was multiplied and divided by the number of tenants without a resident manager in this 18 unit building. That certainly was not enough money to break the landlord who takes in $30,000 per month in rents; but think of how much taxpayer’s money was spent to get me that $4.00. The appalling thing is that I requested other tenants get the same reimbursement and the city refused saying the tenants would have to put in their own complaint. I am still complaining about a rent reduction for denial of maintenance to an intercom system, and reduction in parking, but the owner and city have made up all kinds of excuses, excuses that have no relationship whatsoever to what my rent agreement says; yes, the government will gang up against you if you are the tenant.

Before renting a unit, make sure all housing services for your use are spelled out in the rent agreement, addendum, or housing rules, and make sure repair deadlines and duties are spelled out. If not, do not rent.

In the RAC guidelines, the words “including, but not limited to” …ordinary repairs or replacement, and maintenance… and any other benefits, privileges or facilities” will help you a great deal if you know how to work them, and repeat them over and over.

The rent control THP program is another famous area where tenants have been cheated out of rent monies, and this is covered elsewhere in this site. The THP program mainly applies to rent control properties facing primary renovations, as opposed to regular maintenance.

 RENT CONTROL SCAMS and REMEDIES

The reason why Rent Control is a scam in many cities is because either they promise more than they will deliver, they unjustly favor the property owner, and they know they will not enforce the laws in the tenants’ favor. You can go to each city’s rent control websites and examine the laws they enforce, but know that they will rarely be enforced in your favor as a tenant. Yes, administrative agencies like animal control and rent control have law enforcement powers, and tend to act in an arbitrary manner, having no real duty to examine the facts.

A lot of times rent control laws like in Los Angeles will state that your remedies are in addition to other laws; this means you may seek damages under local rent control law but even if you lose on that level, you still have not waived your right to seek damages under state or federal housing laws. You may want to research under which theory of law you can gain the most in damages. Remember that no matter how promising your rights look on the printed page, there is no guarantee that an administrative agency or court will rule in your favor. Most disputes are settled without court action, and most court cases are settled or dismissed, and few cases make it to a jury trial. This is not to say you should not try to fight if you feel your rights have been violated; just know that the odds, and lots of people, will be fighting against you.

RENT AMOUNT AFTER A TENANT VACATES

A third way a prospective tenant can be cheated is at the application stage when a unit is vacant.

The allowable rent level after a vacancy depends on the reason for the vacancy. The RSO provides that the rent may be raised to any amount upon re-rental if the vacancy resulted because: (1) The tenant voluntarily vacated the unit.  (2) The tenant was evicted for non-payment of legal rent. (3) The tenant was evicted for violating the terms of the rental agreement and failing to cure the violation. (4) The tenant and landlord signed a Disclosure Notice filed with HCIDLA and the tenant subsequently executed a “cash for keys” agreement pursuant to the Tenant Buyout Notification Program (Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 151.31).”

 

“The RSO requires the rent to a new tenant to remain the same, if the vacancy occurred for any other reason. Examples of circumstances under which the landlord MAY NOT raise the rent upon re-rental include the following:  (1) An eviction of the previous tenant to recover the unit for the use of the landlord, his immediate family or resident manager.  (2) An eviction for occupancy by the landlord, his immediate family or resident manager, where the landlord, his family member or resident manager subsequently vacated the rental unit.  (3) An eviction for using or permitting the rental unit to be used for an illegal purpose, unless the eviction is based upon information provided by a law enforcement agency.  (4) An eviction based on the tenants refusal to enter into a new written rental agreement, with similar provisions, and terms which are not inconsistent with the Ordinance.  (5)  An eviction based on the tenant’s refusal to allow the landlord reasonable access to the rental unit.  (6) The rental unit is the land upon which a mobile home is located and it is a new tenant renting a mobile home already in place at a mobile home park. (Rent increase limited to 10 percent or the highest rent of a comparable unit whichever is lower.)”

The big problem here is that after mounting the rent control program which costs millions to operate per year, the city has never kept records as to the reasons why tenants vacate their units, other than the Ellis Act and THP programs, such programs which in many cases are not enforced. Most tenants do not vacate due to Ellis or THP. So how can a tenant find out the reasons why a previous tenant vacated other than asking the owner? Another one of those laws that will not be enforced simply because the city did not include a mechanism to collect the information.

I figure in this case if the owner never served the THP buyout on ten tenants, then he should have been denied the rent increase for those ten units. I imagine corrupt city officials do not see it that way. The ten tenants should be refunded their rent money for applicable months.

It is public knowledge that numerous tenants across the city Los Angeles subject to primary renovations never received the THP application, vacated their unit without the required relocation monies, yet owners were allowed to raise the rents. City, County, and State officials were made aware of this practice and have done nothing to punish the property owners. Of course in some cases, the property owners ARE government officials.

RESIDENT MANAGERS AND FREE RENT

A fourth way that a tenant needs to watch the rent $$$$ is if the tenant is the resident manager. The labor laws may say the resident manager receives a rent discount, but I have seen rent control laws that say the resident manager lives in the unit completely rent free. So do your research if you are a resident manager. I have seen at least two women managers cheated out of rent monies as well as relocation THP monies. And when rent control was told about it, did nothing.

CITY LADWP REFUSES TO RELEASE RECORDS

A fifth way you can be cheated is in the payment of utilities. In many cases you will have to pay your own utilities (gas, electric) directly to the utility company because you will have a separate meter for your unit.  In this case, do not pay the landlord for gas and electric. He may ask you to pay for water and trash but that is a different story, but you should ask for usage receipts.  In the case of a master metered building, there is a confusing law regarding this. I will just say that I have seen cases where the landlord charged $100 for utilities even though it was a one meter building; this means that the landlord did not pay the entire bill because that bill was being paid by a tenant. The ramification here is that a landlord will try to collect the $100 as well as the allowed yearly 2% increase for utilities. This is not allowed but landlords get away with it.

Below is an ongoing exchange with the city LADWP where they refuse to release utility records in a building where the tenants have been told to pay $100 extra for utilities.

Attachment to LADWP Records Request

from tenant #9 – May 5 2018- Via email

THIS IS WHAT  I WROTE BELOW ON MARCH 20, 2018. I REPEAT IT BECAUSE YOU DON’T APPEAR TO COMPREHEND ENGLISH.

Before I make the request let me err on the side of caution and be candid. I seek these records because:

The owner of this property in the past [including his agents and employees] has said that this is a master metered building and that tenants utilities are included in the rent. There are eighteen separate units.

Within the past year or so the owner reported to the city that he pays the utilities, not the tenants. To me that means simply that the owner’s name is on the bill but of course he is using the tenants money to pay for the utilities.

But also within the past year or so the owner started new advertising that applicants must pay an additional $100 per month to cover utilities. I assume that $100 per month is separate from the rent because otherwise the ad would have said it.

My concern is that how can the owner charge for utilities when there is only one master meter, and the owner is not a licensed utility company? How can the owner charger a set amount of $100 when there is no way to determine if that is the tenant’s usage?

MY REQUEST

All records held by LADWP regarding this address 1522 Hi Point St 90035. This request includes all invoices, bills paid, checks, communications, regardless of format,  regarding this property from or to the owner from or to the LADWP. If there are any bills or invoices for separate tenants or units by unit number, these bills, checks, and communications should be included also.

If there is any documents from the LADWP authorizing the property owner to collect monies for utilities on behalf of the LADWP, please include those documents also.

Thank you.

You wrote on April 12, 2018:

“The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has determined that you are not the customer of record and therefore cannot disclose the information you are requesting without consent from the account holder of record or a court order. This determination is made pursuant to California Government Code Section 6254.16 regarding the privacy of customer information. If you have written, notarized authorization from the customer of record to access their records, or documented power of attorney, please submit that to the CPRA Clearinghouse for consideration.”

TODAY’S MAY 5 2018 RESPONSE AND RENEWED REQUEST:

Records requested: Any and all water, electric, power, gas for this property at 1522 Hi Point St 90035. Bills from Feb 2016-Feb 2018, and for account number 073 845 5113, and any information on the owner of the property.

  1. This property is a rent controlled property under the jurisdiction of the city government rent control ordinance. It is in the matter of Public Interest that the city determines if the property owner pays for all the utility costs, then the owner may change an increase of 1% for gas and 1% for electric, and this charge must be paid as part of the tenant’s monthly rent. This is public information.
  2. A tenant such as myself, and an applicant such as myself, has the Public right to ascertain who is paying the utilities at this building and if it is a charge I must pay as tenant; if it is a charge I have to pay as tenant, and must put the bill in my name, I have the right to know the average cost of utilities for my unit that has previously been paid per month, and this is information that LADWP would normally provide to me as a member of the Public, if I went to the LADWP public counter under the stated circumstances.
  3. This is a master metered building.
  4. If the owner does not pay for the cost of all utilities, he cannot charge the 2% per month to the tenants for the utilities.
  5. The owner has advertised on at least two or more occasions, and told the applicants for tenancy, that on top of the rent, tenants must pay $100 additional for utilities. Since this is Public information, I have the right to ascertain the amount and charge of the utility bills.
  6. I believe your position constitutes your participation in actionable criminal fraud by yourself LADWP, the mayor and city council members, and the property owner and his agents, pursuant to any and all claims for damages against the City, without limitation.
  7. No applicant should move into a rent controlled building where there is a denial of transparency of the government’s participation in criminal fraud.
  8. Let’s examine your abuse of Government Code Section 6254.16.
  9. I remind you that the information requested here is the subject of numerous complaints filed with the city rent stabilization department.
  10. I have already supplied to the city copies of ads where the owner said tenants would have to pay $100 for their utilities. The city has been asked to ascertain which tenants between 2014 and 2018 were paying $100 for utilities.
  11. If 18 units/tenants were not supposed to pay 2% increase for utilities since 2014, that would result in a substantial amount of money that tenants were defrauded out of. There needs to be a grand jury investigation of the city rent control department.
  12. GC 6254 reads in part: “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require the disclosure of the name, credit history, utility usage data, home address, or telephone number of utility customers of local agencies, except that disclosure of name, utility usage data, and the home address of utility customers of local agencies shall be made available upon request as follows…”.
  13. My reference to GC 6254 and your misuse of it to justify your denial of release of records (1) the city LADWP has waived any right to refuse to disclose the name of the owner because the owner’s name on the utility bill is a matter of public record in owner’s other ads posted to the internet where he claims he pays the utilities; the city rent registration requirements record the owner name and his payment of utilities; (2) the LADWP has waived any right to refuse to disclose the utility usage data because the owner has said tenants have to pay their own utilities, (3) the city LADWP has waived any right to refuse to disclose the home address of the utility owner because the owner’s home address on the utility bill is a matter of public record in owner’s other ads posted to the internet where he claims he pays the utilities; the city rent registration requirements record the owner business name, property home address, and his payment of utilities; the city rent stabilization registration records provide the home address of the utility/property owner; (4) the city LADWP has waived any right to refuse to disclose the telephone number of the utility owner because the owner’s name on the utility bill is a matter of public record in owner’s other ads posted to the internet where he claims he pays the utilities; the city rent registration requirements record the owner name and his payment of utilities and that his telephone number is a matter of public record in rent registration documents and city code enforcement violation documents. Thus “the public interest in disclosure of the information clearly outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure” based on the city government waivers as stated herein.

As stated herein and in addition, by the owner’s public registration of this building with the city Los Angeles RSD, he has clearly consented to the public release of such information as requested in the records request.

This request is being provided to the office of the Los Angeles County District Attorney for criminal investigation.

Please release the requested information without further delay; I do not need the owner’s credit history.

All rights reserved.

[ Tenant name redacted]

1522 Hi Point St #9

Los Angeles  CA   90035

(Editor: Can you believe this? Because I want to consider paying the utility bill as the owner has indicated, I cannot get from the LADWP what is undeniably mostly already publicly released information. Because I want to know if the owner is illegally charging 2% for utilities. What kind of government is this?)

Do not rent from a rent controlled building because the city government will not enforce your rights to health and safety.

 

 

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