Battle Over Rent Control Expected to Drag Into Next Year

Friday, April 14, 2017
Angela Hart
Sacramento Bee

Under pressure from the California Apartment Association and other real estate interests, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, has put on hold a bill that seeks to increase renter protections amid California’s widening housing crisis.

Bloom wants to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a state law passed in 1995 that curtails the type of housing covered under local rental control laws and prevents cities from strengthening tenant protections for renters.

But he’s received significant pushback in recent weeks from landlords and Sacramento lobbyists representing the state’s lucrative real estate industry, said Guy Strahl, a legislative director for Bloom who is overseeing the bill.

“We’ve decided that at the end of the day, this is too controversial and contentious right now, so we’re going to park it in committee and make it a two-year bill,” Strahl said. “We want to see what kind of compromise we can come up with.”

Strahl and Bloom said they will convene meetings across the state this year to work on the bill and address concerns.

“This is not going to be just tenants and landlords we’re going to talk to; we’re going to the cities that actually have rent control to talk with them and break down some of the misinformation,” he said. “There are a lot of claims that this is going to destroy development, but when we talk to cities that have it, they say that’s just not true.”

Under current law, rent control doesn’t apply to housing built after 1995. Cities that adopted rent control prior to 1995 cannot strengthen existing ordinances.

The apartment association spent big last year – roughly $1.5 million – on anti-rent control campaigns across California. The California Association of Realtors also spent money to defeat rent-control measures across the state.

It will continue to raise and spend money to defeat rent-control measures and to prevent Costa-Hawkins from being repealed, said Tom Bannon, the apartment association’s CEO.

“Rent control does not solve the state’s housing problem,” Bannon said. “Pushing back was really a question of educating as many legislators as possible. … I think they came to the realization that rent control doesn’t address the broader problem of housing affordability and supply, and I think legislators have a real reluctance to change existing law.”

Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together, an advocacy group deeply involved in rent-control laws, said he was not surprised by Bloom’s decision.

“We fully expected a reaction from landlord interests and Realtors,” Preston said. “Anything related to Costa-Hawkins is a heavy lift in Sacramento because of the presence of real estate money. We welcome the opportunity to have time to organize around the bill … we think it can be done.”

Bloom was not available for comment, but he issued a statement arguing that the state has a responsibility to address skyrocketing rents in addition to boosting much-needed supply.

“While numerous factors have contributed to the high cost of housing in California, massive uncontrolled rent increases have certainly played a role in diminishing the quality of life for many Californians,” Bloom said. “However, as we have learned from housing experts and advocates on both sides of the debate over the last month since introducing (Assembly Bill) 1506, rent-control policies can be complicated. Allotting more time to this issue will enable us to construct a policy that is responsible and addresses our specific needs today and not of decades past.”

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