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Return to Sender

It isn’t the Second Coming of rent control, but a bill that would move a little money from the pockets of bad landlords to those of upright renters faces a moment of truth in the Legislature as early as this week.

Assembly Bill 2330 would require landlords to give tenants notice of the items for which portions of their security deposits would be withheld. Tenants would then have a chance to repair damage or clean prior to a final walk-through. The bill is needed, say backers, because poor tenants are regularly cheated of security deposits.

Supporters find themselves a few tallies short of a 21-vote state Senate majority. (The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Carole Migden, a San Francisco Democrat already has passed the Assembly.) Three fence-sitting senators are L.A.-area Democrats: Betty Karnette of Long Beach, Debra Bowen of Redondo Beach, and Kevin Murray of Los Angeles.

Bowen has expressed concern about the second major provision of the bill, which gives renters interest earned by their security deposits. Currently, landlords in most of California can keep these interest payments. According to her chief of staff, Bowen doesn‘t see the benefit of adding a new complexity to the tenantlandlord interaction, given that landlords can make up for the lost interest by raising rents. Activists counter that landlords already charge as much as the market will bear.

Karnette reportedly has concerns about placing the burden of calculating interest on smalltime, unsophisticated landlords. But supporters note that eight states and several California cities, including Los Angeles, have the interest provision already, and no disaster has ensued.

Murray hasn’t stated his objections, according to staff. But he hasn‘t backed the bill either, even though 63 percent of L.A. households rent.

These families understand full well that ”you have to kiss your security deposit goodbye,“ said renter George Priest, ”no matter how well you take care of your apartment.“ Priest sits on the board of ACORN, a grassroots community organization that spearheaded the bill along with the Service Employees International Union.

”We feel like we’ve responded to legislators‘ concerns,“ said one frustrated activist of the L.A.-area holdouts. The opposing faction, composed of realty-industry interests and apartment-owner associations, cites liability issues if tenants make repairs. Without question, the bill would add to a landlord’s paperwork burden. But if it works as intended, only dishonest landlords would be the worse for wear financially.

And legislators should consider voting strength as well as financial muscle, said Priest. Legislators ”may be able to buy more ads by pleasing the people who rent out the apartments,“ he said, but the people who rent the apartments are more numerous.


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