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Rent Control Terms & Definitions

Amenities/Housing Services Petitions
Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act Registration Fee
Excess Rent Complaint Registration Fee Waivers
Exemptions Rent Decrease Petition
General Adjustment Rent Increase Petition
Housing Services Surcharges
Maximum Lawful Rent Vacancy Decontrol
Participating Tenant

Amenities/Housing Services: 

These terms are generally used to describe benefits, privileges or facilities connected with the use or occupancy of a rental unit.  The amenity or housing service may be specific to a single rental unit in some cases or a part of a property's common area and available to tenants of more than one unit.  They include such things as parking, appliances, drapes, the right to have a roommate, laundry facilities, gardening services, recreational facilities, on-site manager, etc.

For controlled rental units, the amenities or housing services that were in effect when a tenancy began (for tenancies that started on or after January 1, 1999) or on April 10, 1978 (for tenancies that started before January 1, 1999) are often referred to as "base amenities."  Any limitations placed on a tenant's access to a base amenity of their unit could result in the Rent Control Board authorizing a rent decrease for the tenant.  

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Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act:

See Vacancy Decontrol.  

Excess Rent Complaint:

If a tenant has paid more than the maximum lawful rent (or other forms of excess rent as defined in Chapter 8 of the Rent Control regulations), he or she may file a complaint with the Rent Control Board to recover the amounts deemed to be overcharged. Tenants also have the right to file a civil lawsuit with the court system. Information Coordinators are available to explain this process.

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Certain properties may be exempt from the Rent Control Law. Examples include hotels, medical care facilities, three-unit or less owner-occupied dwellings. Exemptions are not automatic. Property owners interested in an exemption should contact the Rent Control Board for more information and an application.

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General Adjustment:

The General Adjustment is effectively an annual increase to the amount of the MAR – the principal portion of a tenant’s rent.  Since 2013, the calculation of the General Adjustment has been based primarily on a simple application of 75 percent of the percentage change in the area Consumer Price Index (CPI). Increases can range from 0% to 6%, and Rent Control Board Commissioners retain the discretion to impose a dollar-amount ceiling after holding a public hearing. The General Adjustment goes into effect on September 1 of each year. Click here to access Historical and Current General Adjustments

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Housing Services:

See Amenities/Housing Services

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The MAR is the principal amount that is included in the calculation of the maximum lawful rent for a controlled unit.  The Rent Control staff can provide the current MAR in the Board’s property database for any controlled rental unit.  The MAR is also available on this website for most units.

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Maximum Lawful Rent

The maximum lawful rent for a rent-controlled unit is composed of the MAR , plus the registration fee pass-through and certain allowable surcharges.  For most tenancies that started on or after January 1, 1999, the law does not restrict the initial amount of the rent; however, increases to the maximum lawful rent are controlled by the Rent Control Law.

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Participating Tenant:

Any tenant, including either a cosigning or non-cosigning tenant, residing in a building that was converted from apartments to condominiums under the TORCA law who resided in the building on the date that the Tenant-Participating Conversion Application was approved. In addition to all of the protections of the Rent Control Law, participating tenants have a protection against eviction for owner-occupancy. Please refer to City Charter Section 2001(j).

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The Rent Control Law allows landlords and tenants to petition for downward or upward adjustments in the Maximum Allowable Rent. Petitions must be filed on a form supplied by the Rent Control Board. For more information, see Forms & Petitions.

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Registration Fee:

The Board charges an annual fee to property owners of rent-controlled units. Registration fees finance the operation of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board. Owners who pay the fee (usually by August 1st) can be partially reimbursed by their tenants on a prorated monthly basis. This amount is in addition to the MAR.  

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Registration Fee Waivers:

The Board will waive the registration fee for owner-occupied units, some single family homes and condominiums, and units occupied by tenants subsidized by a state or federal program (such as Section 8).

In addition, the Board will waive the registration fee for units occupied by very low-income seniors (62 years or older) or very low-income disabled tenants. Exceptions are listed in Regulation 11200. The income limits change every year.

Interested residents must complete an application and provide supporting documentation.

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Rent Decrease Petition:

Tenants whose rental units need repairs or maintenance, or tenants whose housing services or amenities have been reduced, may petition to have their monthly rent decreased. The purpose of the rent decrease is to motivate owners to maintain their property and to make necessary repairs. A rent decrease stays in effect until the repairs have been made or amenities restored.

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Rent Increase Petition:

Owners may petition for rent increases above the yearly general adjustment due to completed or planned capital improvements or increased operating expenses not covered by the general adjustments. Owners must demonstrate they are not receiving a fair return to obtain an individual rent increase.

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The maximum lawful rent a property owner may charge for a controlled rental unit is composed of three things: the MAR, the registration fee pass-through, and certain allowable surcharges that are calculated based on charges that appear on the property owner’s annual property tax bill.

Current surcharges that may be added to the maximum lawful rent are: (1) Community College Bond, (2) Unified Schools Bond, (3) Stormwater Management User Fee, (4) Clean Beaches & Ocean Parcel Tax, and (5) School District Parcel Tax.

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The Tenant Ownership Rights Charter Amendment allowed for the conversion of apartment buildings into condominiums as long as a sufficient number of tenants approved the conversion and agreed to purchase their units.

This program was voted into effect in 1984 by Santa Monica voters and expired in 1996.

Under this agreement landlords had to offer the units for sale first to the tenants already living in the units. Tenants declining to purchase their unit were allowed to remain in their units. See Participating Tenant.

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Vacancy Decontrol:

In 1995, the California state legislature passed a law removing local control on the rent level that could be charged at the start of a new tenancy. The Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act allows property owners to set the initial rent at market rates. Future rent increases, however, remain limited to whatever is authorized by local rent control agencies. Costa-Hawkins became effective January 1, 1999.

There are several exceptions to the vacancy decontrol law, such as rent levels established when a unit that was withdrawn under the Ellis Act is returned to the rental market within five years. In addition, certain types of properties, such as condominiums, are eligible for decontrol at different times beyond what is stated here. For more information, please contact the Rent Control Board.

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