Santa Monica Rent Control Challenge Back in Court Again

What do John Travolta, Bob Dylan and the mayor of Santa Monica have in common?

Probably not a whole lot. But the names of all three are being invoked in a lawsuit aimed at overturning Santa Monica’s strict rent control law.

Attorney Robert J. Jagiello contends that the three are examples of celebrities, high-placed government officials and other well-to-do, upwardly mobile people who lease inexpensive, rent-controlled apartments in Santa Monica.

They are part of the proof, he says, that the city’s 10-year-old rent control law–considered one of the toughest in the nation–has betrayed a key goal and is not helping the poor, minorities or senior citizens but is benefiting the wealthy.

This is one of the claims that attorneys for a 91-year-old landlady will make Monday in federal court in an effort to persuade U.S. District Judge Ronald S. W. Lew to remand the case to trial.

Attack on Rent Control

The case has become a vehicle for landlords who are turning to a more conservative federal judiciary to attack rent control on constitutional grounds.

Santa Monica has labeled the challenge futile, pointing out that the law has withstood similar assaults in the past. Many of the claims that Jagiello is making are irrelevant or meaningless, city attorneys say.

Nevertheless, both sides are watching the case closely.

Santa Monica voters, the majority of whom are tenants, approved a rent control law in 1979. The law puts a limit on how much rents can be raised annually and regulates evictions. Unlike similar laws in other cities, Santa Monica’s version does not allow a landlord to raise the rent when a tenant vacates an apartment.

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