SOUTH PASADENA — A new ordinance strengthening tenant protections goes into effect today in South Pasadena.  

On Nov. 1, the South Pasadena City Council unanimously voted to pass a new just cause evictions ordinance that strengthened tenant protections, namely for substantial remodel just cause evictions. Substantial remodel just cause evictions, first introduced in the state Tenant Protection Act of 2019, have prompted concerns from residents around LA County due to their potentially vague nature. 

A “substantial remodel” is “the replacement or substantial modification of any structural, electrical, plumbing or mechanical system that requires a permit from a governmental agency, or the abatement of hazardous materials, including lead-based paint, mold, or asbestos,” according to the Tenant Protection Act of 2019. But due to the vague definition of what a substantial remodel is, residents are concerned the law provides a legal loophole for landlords to abuse, evicting them under often flimsy cosmetic renovations that are far from substantial.

For 1313 Huntington Drive, the damage has already been done. Residents had voiced concerns to the city council in April, after receiving eviction notices in July 2022 when a new landlord bought their building and insisted on substantially remodeling it. Resident Erica Rede says some of her neighbors did take the money the property management company offered them to move, and are still struggling to find a new place to live.

But for Rede, who stayed holding out hope, the vote came with a huge sigh of relief. 

“It’s a huge stress relief because I had stuff in boxes in preparation to move,” Rede said. “I’m not getting harassed anymore and I’m actually able to resume all my normal activities.”

South Pasadena tenants initially voiced their concerns to the city council with regards to the substantial remodel issue in April of this year.

The South Pasadena City Council then considered a proposal for an ordinance to address these concerns at the June 13 council meeting, but after finding this initial proposal insufficient in its community outreach efforts, the Council directed staff to conduct more research. In the meantime they voted, to instate a 6-month moratorium on all no-fault evictions at the June 28 meeting,  

South Pasadena’s previous just cause eviction ordinance — adopted in January 2021 — mostly deferred to the Tenant Protection Act of 2019. However, with regard to substantial remodel, it provided slightly stronger language, with provisions requiring landlords obtain building permits and include detailed descriptions of their proposed work be attached to a tenant’s notice of termination. Still, under this ordinance, “intent to substantially remodel” was still categorized as a “no fault eviction” – evictions that aren’t the tenants fault, but still legally justified – and just cause for terminating a tenancy.

The new South Pasadena ordinance asserts that “intent to substantially remodel” is no longer a no-fault just cause for terminating a tenancy, and adds a new section dedicated to tenant protections for necessary and substantial repairs. Under this new section, “necessary and substantial repairs” are more clearly defined as repairs that are necessary to bring a property into compliance with the law, the abatement of hazardous materials, and repairs to fix untenable conditions. Specifically, “cosmetic improvement” — which many tenants had complained of landlords passing off as “substantial” — are not included. Intent to demolish, however, is still a no-fault just cause for terminating a tenancy.

In addition, the new ordinance requires that in the case that a tenant is forced to vacate due to a remodel, landlords must provide temporary relocation assistance of an amount equivalent to a per diem payment of two times the daily rental rate, in addition to the Federal General Services Administration’s per diem rate for “meals and incidentals” for each tenant, or occupant, who is 12 years of age or older, and who is listed in the lease agreement. Moreover, the ordinance affords tenants more power to negotiate buyout agreements with owners, namely the power to rescind a buyout agreement up to five days after it’s executed.

Under the new ordinance, landlords will still be able to make substantial repairs either by waiting for units to turnover, by doing work while a tenant is still in place, or by adjusting their budgets to temporarily relocate tenants while work is being completed. According to Leah Demarest, South Pasadena’s senior planner for housing programs, the new ordinance was drafted after significant outreach to both South Pasadena’s landlord and tenant communities.

“[This ordinance] addresses the specific issue of substantial remodel evictions brought to the city council in April, by ensuring that tenants are not permanently displaced from their homes and from the South Pasadena community because their landlord wants to remodel and flip their unit. In keeping with the city’s commitments in the housing element, it protects renters,” Senior Planner for Housing Programs Leah Demarest said in a summary given to the city council at their Nov. 1 meeting.

In an email, Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartments Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA), an organization that advocates for landlords, said that, “Under the severe, adverse conditions imposed by the [city of South Pasadena], it will no longer make financial sense for the vast majority of South Pasadena’s rental housing providers to make substantial improvement or upgrades at their properties.”

AAGLA had been strongly advocating against a stronger just cause ordinance in South Pasadena since May 2023. AAGLA representatives at the Nov. 1 city council meeting echoed Yukelson’s concerns, proposing that smaller, “mom-and-pop” landlords should be exempt from the ordinance, and that the then-proposed relocation fee should be decreased. AAGLA representatives also argued that the city of South Pasadena should just default to SB 567, a new state law which was signed by the Governor on Sept. 30 and will go into effect April 1 2024, which addresses substantial remodel just cause evictions.

According to Senior Planner Demarest, however, SB 567’s substantial remodel provisions are similar to South Pasadena’s former just cause eviction ordinance. Namely that under the new law, substantial remodel would still remain a no-fault just cause for eviction as long as the landlord meets certain requirements — making South Pas’s new law substantially stronger.

On the other side of the table, many tenants came out in support of the new South Pasadena ordinance, but not without some criticism. The South Pasadena tenants union expressed concern about how the ordinance would be enforced and that the move-out relocation rate was still not enough in comparison to the temporary relocation rate.

“The move-out relocation fees are still the same as the state which is one month’s rent,” said Anne Bagasao, co-founder of the South Pasadena Tenants Union. “So, we still might have instances where tenants are going to be displaced, with less [funding] would have if they were temporarily displaced.”

But overall, Bagasao is happy with the new ordinance, which she says is even better than the first draft presented earlier this June.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Bagasao said. “I was concerned that they were going to try to accommodate the smaller landlords more than they did, but I do think it was as fair as they could be.”