“Bad faith” language added to newly adopted anti-tenant harassment policy

Bad+faith+language+was+added+to+the+council%27s+newly+adopted+tenant+harassment+policy+on+Tuesday%2C+Nov.+17.+%28Photo+Illustration+by+Emma+DiMaggio%29

Bad faith language was added to the council’s newly adopted tenant harassment policy on Tuesday, Nov. 17. (Photo Illustration by Emma DiMaggio)

The Long Beach City Council unanimously adopted an anti-tenant harassment policy with a 7-2 vote on the addition of “bad faith” language at their Nov. 17 meeting.

The policy, which was introduced at the council’s Nov. 3 meeting, sets forth a list of actions by landlords that will now be considered tenant harassment.

The ordinance was headed by Councilmember Dee Andrews in solidarity with his constituents at Daisy Avenue and Orange Avenue who reported ongoing harassment from their landlord.

The City of Long Beach is a majority renter city where over half the population’s renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent, according to the City’s 2019 Community Health Assessment.

During public comment, landlords and tenants were expectedly split on whether to include “bad faith” language into the policy.

“Bad faith” language would require tenants to prove that their landlords acted in bad faith when violating the harassment policy. The inclusion of the language could allow for landlords to claim that they were acting in good faith when allegedly violating the ordinance.

Nonprofit attorney Natalie Diaz advocated against the inclusion of bad faith language, stating that proving bad faith would be “impossible” for tenants.

“How would a tenant prove what is going on in the mind of their landlord when they are harassing them?” she asked.

Andrew Mandujano, an organizer with Long Beach Forward, said that bad faith language would “provide slumlords with coverage.”

Deputy City Attorney Rich Anthony conceded that the inclusion of bad faith language would “no doubt it will make it a bit harder on a tenant to prove harassment.”

Landlords like Keith Kennedy, on the other hand, voiced concern that a lack of bad faith language would incentivize tenants to file “frivolous” lawsuits.

Anthony also noted that a lack of bad faith language could spell trouble for landlords who make mistakes in good faith. For example, he said a landlord could forget to cash a check and that could be considered harassment under the ordinance.

The underlying message from most landlords was that bad faith language would help provide a more “fair and balanced” approach to the ordinance.

“There’s not one group that’s been singularly impacted by pandemic, we’ve all been impacted. It’s not just tenants, it’s also housing providers,” resident Mike Murchinson said. “We need protection for all.”

Councilmember Suzie Price, who works as a district attorney in Orange County, was supportive of bad faith language, stating that it “sets forth an objective standard to really go after the bad actors.”

Other large cities like Oakland, West Hollywood and Santa Monica all include some form of bad faith language in their policies.

The council eventually came to a compromise, with Councilmember Rex Richardson presenting a friendly amendment to include bad faith language in only portions of the ordinance.

“I don’t think we need to paint it with a broad brush,” Richardson said. He pointed out that many of the actions in the ordinance already imply bad faith, such as threatening physical harm.

The motion seemed to win over the more skeptical councilmembers. At their Nov. 3 meeting, councilmembers Price, Stacy Mungo and Daryl Supernaw all opposed the creation of the ordinance.

Councilmember Jeannine Pearce said it was “good to hear the changes” and that she “wasn’t sure where [she’d] be” before the amendment.

The friendly amendment was accepted by motioner Price. When it came to a vote, the addition of bad faith language was passed by a 7-2 vote with Councilmembers Mary Zendejas and Roberto Uranga opposing.

Now, tenants will only have to prove bad faith on behalf of their landlord if that landlord does one of the following:

• Refuse to acknowledge or accept receipt of a tenant’s lawful rent payment as set forth in a rental agreement, by usual practice of the parties, or in a notice to pay rent or quit; refuse to cash or process a rent check or other form of acceptable rent payment for over thirty (30) days after it is tendered; or fail to maintain a current address for delivery of rent payments.
• Communicate with a tenant in a language other than the tenant’s primary language for the purpose of intimidating, confusing, deceiving or annoying the tenant
• Fail to timely perform repairs and maintenance required by a rental agreement or by Federal, State, County or local housing, health or safety laws; fail to exercise due diligence in completing such repairs once undertaken; fail to follow appropriate industry repair, containment, or remediation protocols designed to minimize exposure to noise, dust, lead, paint, mold, asbestos, or other building materials with potentially harmful health impacts; or conduct elective renovation or construction of a rental housing unit for the purpose of harassing a tenant.
• Violate a tenant’s right to privacy, including without limitation, by requesting information regarding residence or citizenship status, protected class status, or social security number, except for, in the case of social security number, for purposes of obtaining information for the qualifications for a tenancy; release such information except as required or authorized by law; or request or demand an unreasonable amount of information from tenant in response to a request for reasonable accommodation.

A full copy of the ordinance proposal is available here. This copy does not include the additions of bad faith language.

The next city council meeting will take place via teleconference on Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 5 p.m.