State Rent Stabilization Laws Need Reform!

You might have heard this campaign slogan coined in New York City: “The rent is too damn high!” It was the foundation of a new political party, too, which ran candidates for Mayor and Governor of New York. Well the rent is too damned high here, too, and we need to change our rent stabilization ordinance to moderate excessive increases and provide the more-than-half of city households with real tenant protections.

Rents are rising fast in the Southland’s tight rental market. We don’t have a Rent Is Too Damn High Party here in California, but maybe we should have one. The state allows unlimited rent increases in every locality that has not capped rents though rent control. That is simply outrageous.

How can laws in a so-called progressive state deny tenants important protections like a capped rent increase? Or some limit on no-just-cause evictions? Because landlords though local, state and national associations have won friends in Sacramento.

By hook and by crook the landlords and have succeeded in persuading the legislature to keep most tenant protections off the books. State law even preempts local rent stabilization ordinances from extending rent control to residential rental properties built after 1995.

Without political pressure from tenants, there is little incentive to pass state laws to protect those who rent and in many areas, notably Ventura, Riverside and San Diego counties, conservative property-minded interests dominate local races.

Where can we make some improvement? We can limit the reach of two laws devastating to tenants: Ellis Act and Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act.

Ellis Act: Evictions at Will

Richard Bloom and his Assembly co-authors have done tenants a solid favor by authoring an amendment to the State’s Ellis Act. That legislation allows property owners to evict tenants for the purpose of “getting out of the business” of rental housing. But there are too many loopholes that allow landlords to use Ellis to their advantage.

For one thing, the owner of a rental property can simply evict tenants and decide later what to do with the property; they are not obligated to exit the rental business at all (the ostensible purpose of the Act). The business strategy is to return to the rental market and re-rent the same unit but at a higher price.

Opponents of the law argue that the law allows entire buildings to be ‘Ellised out’ with too few protections for tenants. And tens of thousands of households have been displaced from affordable units even in rent control cities like City of Los Angeles. Check out this nifty map of nearby Ellis Act evictions over 15 years.

The state’s Ellis Act is responsible for tens of thousands of evictions in Los Angeles, including these around Beverly Hills since 2001.

Unlike the surrounding areas, Beverly Hills shows no Ellis evictions because our city doesn’t even collect evictions data! That’s because our no-just-cause eviction allowance means landlords don’t even have to go the Ellis route.

Under current law, displaced households have 120 days to move. Seniors and disabled get one year but only if they ask. However if there is no Chapter 5 tenant present, then the landlord can simply say ‘goodbye’ to all tenants with only 60 days notice.

Bloom’s co-authored amendment, AB-982, would extend the window for displacement to one year for all tenants with no special notice required of them. It’s a significant improvement to a very damaging law and we urge you to support AB-982.

Costa Hawkings Act REPEAL

Costa-Hawkins was adopted in 1995 to exempt from rent stabilization all buildings built after 1995 and all condominium or single-family home rentals. That is a HUGE carve-out.

Costa Hawkins also mandates that every newly-vacated unit be ‘vacancy decontrolled’ so the rent can be raised to market price. This provision alone moved countless units to market rate immediately after a longtime tenant departs (called vacancy decontrol).

Costa Hawkins is called a gift to landlords and it is one that has kept on giving since the legislature passed it in 1995. That’s because continues to limit the ability of localities like Beverly Hills to extend strong protections to those who rent.

Richard Bloom’s has co-authored bill that would repeal entirely the Costa Hawkings Act. The bill, AB-1506, is currently parked in the legislature’s Committee on Housing and Community Development where it faces an uncertain fate.

This bill deserves tenant support and statewide tenant group Tenants Together has been mounting pressure in the legislature. But that is an uphill battle because Sacramento is largely bought-and-sold by landlord associations like the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.

Call Richard Bloom’s office at (916) 319-2050 and let him know you’re behind REFORM of Ellis and REPEAL of Costa Hawkins.

While you’re dialing, hit up his co-author of both bills, Assemblymember David Chiu, who chairs the Committee on Housing and Community Development. [Update: Chiu has since resigned to become City Attorney of San Francisco.]

A third co-author on AB-1506 (Costa Hawkins repeal) is Assemblymember Rob Bonta. Reach him at (916) 319-2018.

Do take a minute and give these Southland-area committee Assemblymembers a call too:

  • Ed Chau of Arcadia: (916) 319-2049
  • Monique Limon of Santa Barbara: (916) 319-2037
  • Raul Bocanegra of San Fernando: (916) 319-2039

It takes literally just a minute to let these lawmakers know that we’re out there; that it’s not just the big property interests hiding behind ‘astro-turf’ grassroots mom-and-pop landlords who call the shots.

Update: Bloom’s bill is a ‘two-year bill,’ which will allow him to reintroduce it in the upcoming legislative session. We hope to count on your support when it’s up again for consideration.