LA Landlords Lose Suit Over Housing Safety Law
(CN) - Opponents of a program that would make Los Angeles landlords fix unsafe housing failed to raise any constitutional issues, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.
Born over 20 years ago to combat a rash of dilapidated housing in LA, the Rent Escrow Account Program, or REAP, allows tenants to pay lower rent for apartments or houses with recurrent, unaddressed violations of the city's health and safety codes.
Renters living in housing placed under the program can also put their rent money directly into an escrow account, rather than paying the landlord, and the proceeds are then used for repairs.
Four landlords whose properties were placed in REAP claimed that they suffered violations of their due process rights.
The Sylvia Landfield Trust, Maria Land, Jeff Kern, and Ram and Khushwant Gill, have been variously cited for "electrical, plumbing, fire safety, and cockroach problems," and one of them was criminally prosecuted for "owning unpermitted and uninspected units," the court noted.
U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton Tucker had previously dismissed their case in Los Angeles, and a unanimous three-judge appellate panel affirmed Monday.
The landlords had argued, among other things, that the city used the program to enrich itself and its nonprofit partners, and that it intended to seize private property for its own ends.
The Pasadena-based appeals panel found no evidence of such dark motives.
"None of the allegations plausibly suggest that REAP was arbitrarily and unreasonably applied to any of the plaintiffs, or that the placement of plaintiffs' properties into REAP rose to the level 'that shocks the conscience,'" Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the panel.
He added that the "city's actions are rationally related to REAP's goals of repairing and preventing substandard housing and thus the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint was proper."
Meantime, LA's plague of slums appears to be as acute as ever.
Judge Pregerson noted that a federal survey in 2011 had discovered that, out of the 1.7 million rentals looked at, nearly 500,000 were "infested with cockroaches," and 35,500 were "infested with rats." The survey by the U.S. Census Bureau also found that 46,400 of the rentals had "severe problems with their plumbing, heating, electricity, or upkeep," and that 62,300 "lacked consistently working toilets."
Lee Grant, the landlords' Encino-based attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.