More California cities are adopting rent controls to protect tenants

When Bell Gardens resident Monchis Curiel received notice from her landlord last year that the rent for her three-bedroom apartment would more than double the next day – from $1,200 a month to $2,500 – she was shocked.

Curiel, 47, has lived in the city for more than three decades and knew his landlord was required to give at least 60 days notice for such a large increase. She decided to fight the move in court and won. And because his landlord didn’t want to pay the moving costs under the Los Angeles County rent stabilization order, Curiel was offered a one-year lease at his original rent.

Curiel, a single mother of four who earns around $14,000 a year, said if she hadn’t known her rights as a tenant she would have been forced to move out.

“I would have separated my children from my family. They would have gone to their dad’s and I would probably sleep in a car,” she said. “What mattered to me was that my children had a roof over their heads.”

After fighting his eviction, Curiel joined tenant advocates seeking rent control legislation in Bell Gardens. On August 22, City Council voted unanimously to advance a rent stabilization ordinance that would limit the annual rent increases at 50% of the local consumer price index, capping the increase at 4% even if the inflation rate is higher.

Rent control has long been a tool to protect people against the price of their housing. But with California rents rising amid a boiling real estate market, more cities are turning to protections. This drew praise from tenants’ groups and opposition from apartment owners’ organisations, which criticized the Bell Gardens plan.

Antioch City Council last week passed a similar rent control ordinance that caps annual rent increases in the Bay Area city at 60% of CPI or 3% – whichever is less. . On August 1, the Pomona City Council set a rent cap of 4% or the change in CPI.

Santa Ana passed a rent control ordinance in November, limiting increases to 3% per year or 80% of the change in the CPI. The town of Oxnard capped rent increases at 4% per year in April. And in November, Pasadena residents will vote on their own rent control measure.

Some California landlords were allowed to increase their rent starting August 1 by up to 10%, the maximum annual increase under Assembly Bill 1482, a statewide law passed there three years ago. But the 10% cap only applies to complexes built before 2007 and those not subject to rent control restrictions, meaning other landlords can raise their rents even further.

Cities and counties in California have also passed local ordinances protecting against no-fault evictions. AB 1482 protects tenants who have lived in their apartment for at least one year.

Bell Gardens City Manager Michael O’Kelly said the city’s ordinance requires a final vote, scheduled for September 12. If approved, it will come into effect 30 days later.

“Rents in [Bell Gardens] and throughout Los Angeles County continue to rise, and although the city has lower rents compared to surrounding communities, many local residents – especially low-income households – are struggling to afford rising costs. housing and meeting other basic needs such as food, transportation and health care,” he said.

Lupe Arreola, executive director of Tenants Together, a statewide tenant advocacy group, said according to the latest US Census data, about 44% of California renters spend more than a third of their income in rent. She also noted that about 75% of single mothers and 64% of single fathers are renters.

“When you have a single parent raising an entire family on one income, any increase in spending can be destabilizing and can also mean the difference between family wealth [or it] could mean expulsion,” she said.

Arreola said rising rents are not keeping up with wages, which could lead to evictions and “irreparable harm.”

“It’s not just an economic issue, but certainly an issue of equity, community safety and health, and making sure that children are at the center of the decisions our community makes,” she said. declared.

About 78% of Bell Gardens residents are renters, according to data from the Southern California Assn. governments. And about 64% of households in the city spend 30% or more of their gross income on rent.

Of the residents of Bell Gardens, about 96% are Latino and at least 26% of the population lives in poverty, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

“Even before COVID and before inflation, people were struggling to pay their rent,” said Susy Herrera, communications director for California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, one of the groups fighting rent control at Bell. Gardens. “People were definitely working multiple jobs, and COVID really exacerbated that.”

Herrera said that through the group’s organizing efforts, she’s heard from people who hope rent control will be implemented in their cities.

Not everyone is in favor of control measures.

Daniel Yukelson, Managing Director of Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, opposes all forms of rent control and said the Bell Gardens ordinance “goes far beyond anything even approaching ‘fair and balanced’.”

“On the heels of eviction moratoriums and disputed rent collections over the past two years, and now unprecedented inflationary pressures, landlords will never be able to keep up and will exit the business,” he said.

Yukelson said rent control laws could also hurt tenants by locking them into rent-stabilized housing.

“They’re less likely to give up their below-market rental unit to buy their own property, to pursue a better job opportunity out of the area, and they often stay put long after their rental unit’s usefulness has gone down. ended,” he said.

California’s first experiments with rent control began during World War II amid high vacancy rates and a slowdown in construction in the aftermath of the Great Depression. The Emergency Price Control Act of 1942 controlled the prices of goods and services, including rents.

The law was removed a few years later, and California saw an increase in the number of tenant advocates in the 1970s, another period of high inflation. More than a dozen cities have some type of rent control, including Los Angeles, Inglewood, Palm Springs, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, San Francisco, Alameda, Berkeley, Hayward, East Palo Alto, San Jose, and Los Gatos, but tenant advocates say they are still facing rent increases.

Santa Monica, for example, was one of the first cities in California to enact rent control in 1979, but Anastasia Foster, a member of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board, said statewide laws had been hampered by the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995. It bans rent control on condos, single-family homes, and apartment buildings built after 1995, and prohibits “vacancy control,” allowing landlords to raise rent at any price for a new tenant after the departure of the previous one.

Foster pushed back against the idea that landlords won’t see a sufficient return on their investments because of rent control laws.

“Even if there is a tight year or time for the whole economy, including homeowners, the effect felt is not the same,” she said. “There are tenants who have to make choices between paying for groceries or medication. I don’t think buildings worth millions of dollars pose the same level of risk as our tenants.

In November, Santa Monica voters will decide to tighten their rent control rules to limit increases to no more than 3% per year. According to the regulations in force, tenants can benefit from a 6% increase.

The flurry of recent local rent control measures runs counter to failures to expand the policy statewide. California voters have twice rejected moves to expand rent control by nearly 20 percentage points in 2018 and 2020 after campaigns worth more than $100 million in which landlord groups spent more than $2 for 1 for the supporters of the initiative.

A nationwide eviction ban was put in place during the pandemic in 2020 to prevent millions of evicted tenants from potentially spreading the coronavirus when they had to move. The Supreme Court dismissed a landlord challenge in June 2021 to lift the federal eviction moratorium, but allowed the protections to expire in August 2021 by preventing President Biden from extending it for two months.

Curiel said she began working with Unión de Vecinas de Bell Gardens, a community group associated with California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, to try to pass rent control in the city so that no other tenants have to endure what she has been through.

“It changed the town of Bell Gardens,” she said. “It’s history. In these years that I have lived here, nothing has ever been done for us tenants until we speak up and unite. We have won this great victory.

Times writer Liam Dillon contributed to this report.

Bernard P. Love