State Rent Stabilization Laws Need Reform!

You might have heard this campaign slogan coined in New York about ten years ago: “The rent is too damn high.” Around that slogan a titular leader emerged and a new political party was formed: The Rent Is Too Damn High Party. It has run candidates for both Mayor and Governor, but it hasn’t scored a win at the ballot box (yet). Well, the rent is too damned high here, too, and so that’s a message that resonates in Beverly Hills – a city of restive tenants bracing for the 60-day notice and otherwise concerned that our allowable increase may creep back up towards the old 10%.

In the Southland’s tight rental market, rents are rising fast and landlords are taking advantage. We don’t have a Rent Is Too Damn High Party here in California, but maybe we need one! State laws deny tenants many important protections that are included in most every local rent stabilization ordinance: an end to no-just-cause evictions and capped increases (West Hollywood allows just 1.75% year-over-year increase at present).

Landlords, though their local, state and national associations, have won friends in the legislature (by hook and by crook) and have succeeded in keeping tenant protections off the law books and even preempting local rent stabilization ordinances and protections in many jurisdictions.

Why has the legislature historically been pro-landlord? Rent control is not a salient local political issue in many places in California. Few regions experience the over-heated real estate market that we have in the Southland. Without political pressure, there is little incentive to pass local laws to protect those who rent. In other areas (notably Ventura, Riverside and San Diego counties), property interests can step into the vacuum and dominate the legislature.

Ellis Act Amendments

Richard Bloom and his Assembly co-authors have done us a solid favor by authoring an amendment to the State’s Ellis Act, which currently allows property owners to evict tenants for the purpose of “getting out of the business” of rental housing.

The problem with the Ellis Act is that it allows owners of rental property to simply evict and decide later what to do with the property. They are not obligated to exit the rental business at all. For a time they must offer displaced tenants a right of return if they don’t exit, but regardless eventually they can simply re-rent the same unit – at market price. Even for those protected by local rent stabilization, the state law allows entire buildings to be ‘Ellised out.’

The law is rightly vilified by housing advocates for displacing tens of thousands of households from affordable units in City of Los Angeles alone. (Check out this nifty map of nearby Ellis Act evictions over 15 years. Unlike Los Angeles, Beverly Hills shows no Ellis eviction because our city doesn’t even collect the data!)

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

Under current law, displaced households have 120 days to move. Seniors and disabled get one year, but only if they ask within a limited timeframe. And forget about punitive fees to discourage evictions: a recent San Francisco Court of Appeals in March struck down Ellis relocation fees high enough to be viewed by the court as effectively ‘prohibiting’ a property owner’s exit from the rental business.

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

Bloom’s most significant effort this legislative session is a co-authored bill that would repeal entirely the Costa Hawkings Act. 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. Those who rent such units in Beverly Hills enjoy zero protection under our local rent stabilization law. Zero!

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). That has kept prevailing rents overall very high no matter how strict is the local rent stabilization policy.

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.

What Sacramento gives, however, Sacramento can take away. Assemblyman Richard Bloom has (courageously) co-sponsored a bill this session to repeal entirely the Costa Hawkins Act. The bill, AB-1506, is currently parked in the legislature’s Committee on Housing and Community Development where it faces an uncertain fate.

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

Remember that Renters Alliance is the real grassroots: we are neighbors helping neighbors. Let’s lend a hand to our statewide neighbors by supporting the legislators who support those who rent in California.

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