Updated at 6 p.m. with information from the city's rent control attorney.
Lukewarm hot tubs and shortened sauna hours aren't cause for cheaper rent.
At least not when the tenants don't provide proof that reduced services "resulted in excessive rent or an unjust return on the landlord's property," the state 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled Thursday.
The appellate judges overturned a Santa Monica Rent Control Board decision to force a local landlord to reduce two tenants' monthly rents by a collective $68 because the building's hot tub only reached 100 degrees and sauna use was reduced from one-hour to 25-minute sessions.
"Here, the minimal reduction of adult recreational services of a type commonly found only in luxury housing does not justify decreasing rents without evidence," the judges wrote in their ruling.
City rent control attorney Stephen Lewis said the court of appeals made a mistake. Whether there's been a fair return on an investment doesn't come into play when determining rent decreases—only increases—he said.
"The court in this case was a little bit concerned about what it considered trivialities," he said.
The tenants are being forced to retroactively pay the landlord, Santa Monica Properties, for the decreased rents they've been paying since October 2008, a sum that totals more than $2,500.
On Jan. 31, 2008, a tenant in the 32-unit building filed a petition for rent decrease on her two-bedroom apartment with the Santa Monica Rent Control Board.
She said the reduction from $1,214 was justified because the landlord had substantially cut the hours the hot tub was heated, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to 5-9 p.m. She also said a new timer had "reduced greatly" the length of time the complex's sauna would stay heated, from one hour to 25 minutes, according to court documents.
In later hearings, she would claim the hot tub only reached 100 degrees, when she recommended temperatures of between 104 and 107 degrees for therapeutic use, according to court documents.
In March 2008, a second tenant filed a similar petition.
In the fall, a Rent Control hearing officer issued a 99-page report ordering a $48 decrease in rent for the first tenant and $20 per month for the second, effective in December 2008.
Santa Monica Properties made some concessions, but the legal wrangling continued until the landlord ultimately asked the appeals court to weigh in.
The Rent Control Board "may not order a rent decrease based solely on a landlord's act of changing the temperature of a hot tub or sauna, without a finding, supported by substantial evidence, that the temperature changes affected the landlord's return or the fairness of the rent paid by tenants," it found.
Whether the court's ruling is appealed will be up to the Board.
"Certainly there are grounds for the appeal," Lewis said.