LONG BEACH - An advocacy group for low-income individuals is urging Long Beach to weigh tenant rights as the city moves forward with drafting an ordinance that would place water submeters in new multifamily residences.

The City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday to direct staff to confer with apartment groups, building and trade representatives and tenant groups before writing the submetering law. Officials are pushing the measure as a way to increase water conservation and plan to include the changes in Long Beach's triennial building code update set to take effect Jan. 1.

Before council members voted, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles senior attorney Susanne Browne suggested a series of tenant safeguards.

Among those were provisions that requires submeters to be inspected, calibrated and tested for accuracy. Landlord requirements included disclosing that water is not included in a tenant's rent, repairing water leaks within seven days and the barring of administrative fees, except late fees.

Browne also asked the city to exempt affordable housing developments and offer low-income tenant discount programs.

"Our goal here is simple: We support water conservation through water management policy, but we want to move forward in a manner that balances the interests of tenants, landlords and water conservation," Browne said.

Several council members spoke about the need to listen to tenants as the submetering ordinance is put together this year, in addition to apartment and construction groups.


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Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Solano, is considering introducing a statewide submetering bill during this year's legislative session.

Despite that, Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, who chairs the Environmental Committee, asked the city not to delay taking on the issue of submetering.

Past attempts at passing a state submetering law have failed, Lowenthal noted.

"And if (Solano's bill is passed), fabulous, we can do something in parallel, but that should not (void) our efforts at the local level to really manage our own fate and destiny here as it relates to these issues," Lowenthal said.

A Long Beach submetering ordinance would be based on a San Diego law passed two years ago and would affect only new construction with three or more dwelling units due to the difficulties and cost of retrofitting existing buildings, water officials have said.

Amy Bodek, the city's development services director, set a March timetable for city staff to begin meeting with stakeholders to discuss the ordinance.

More than 50 percent of Long Beach residents live in multifamily properties and together account for 36 percent of water usage citywide, according to the Long Beach Water Department.

National studies have shown that submetering is effective in reducing water consumption, with one report showing that submeters decreased water use by 15.3 percent.

eric.bradley@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1254, twitter.com/EricBradleyPT*