A recent case highlighted an often overlooked requirement under the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance (Los Angeles’ rent control). Under the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance, a landlord is required to serve every tenant a copy of the landlord’s rent registration statement or renewal statement from the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department. However, in Lyles v. Sangadeo-Patel, the Court found failure to serve the rent registration certificate did not allow a tenant to receive restitution for prior rent that was paid. The only defense to not serving a statement would be for the tenant to refuse to pay rent.
However, it is important to note that even if a tenant withholds rent as a result of a landlord failing to serve a tenant a copy of the rent registration statement, a landlord must simply serve the notice and the tenant is required to pay rent under the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance. This is an important requirement that landlords must perform prior to filing an unlawful detainer against a tenant in a rent control unit.
Plaintiff relied heavily on a previous case, Carter v. Cohen, that held a tenant subject to illegal rent increases and living in a unit without a certificate of occupancy would be entitled to all rent paid to the landlord and treble damages. Here, the rental unit had a certificate of occupancy and was “legal;” however, the only issue was whether or not failure to serve a rent registration statement entitled a tenant to all back rent paid to a landlord. The Court found that such a result would “be an absurd and unreasonable consequence.”
Although this case provides some relief to Los Angeles landlords who do not serve an annual rent registration certificate, a landlord should still do so because failing to do so provides a valid defense to any eviction for non-payment of rent.