Long Beach Begins Addressing Potential Future as a Rent Controlled City

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Jason Ruiz
Long Beach Post

Faced with the mounting possibility that a rent control ordinance could get the required amount of signatures to qualify for the ballot this November the Long Beach City Council is taking proactive measures to address questions that surround the proposed policy.

It submitted a list of questions to the city attorney and city manager’s office for review prior to the rent control effort potentially reaching its signature threshold in an attempt to provide residents with impartial data on the subject which has already been marked by polarizing language from advocates on both sides of the debate.

Questions like would the new law nullify existing leases, are units accepting Section 8 vouchers exempt from any potential rent control ordinance and exactly how a just-cause eviction element—something included in the ballot initiative—would work in regard to landlords’ abilities to legally remove tenants from units, were included in the seven-page document.

The proposed ordinance would establish a cap on rent-controlled units in Long Beach with the base rent for those properties reverting to what the monthly rates were on January 1, 2017. It would cap annual increases at 5 percent or 100 percent of the increase in the consumer price index (whichever is less) and would require relocation payments to tenants “under certain circumstances”.

It does not list the cut-off year for which a property would be excluded from the ordinance—another question submitted by the council—although a statewide law known as the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limits local rent control powers, sets that cutoff point for properties built after 1995.

The group has until the end of July to collect the over-27,000 signatures needed for the initiative to qualify for the ballot. At that point, the council could enact it as law or leave it up to the voters as they did with a ballot measure regarding medical marijuana dispensaries in 2016. That effort was approved by nearly 60 percent of voters.“We thank you for initiating that this evening and we look forward to all the questions that the council members have so we can get that out of the way now so that when we turn the signatures in we can move toward certification as quickly as possible,” said Housing Long Beach Executive Director Josh Butler, one of the leaders of the ballot initiative.

While the council’s vote last night merely approved a review of the questions by city departments and any outside advisors it may contract with, no action on the actual ballot initiative was at stake. However, rental property owners and renters packed the council chamber Tuesday night in an effort to persuade the council that their position on rent control was the correct one.

For years, renters and housing advocate groups like Butler’s have sought greater renters’ protections like just-cause eviction laws and a rent escrow account program that would have targeted bad-actor landlords who let their properties fall into disrepair. With the rising rates of rents in Long Beach and the displacements caused by properties being snatched up by investors who have issued notices to vacate to entire buildings, they’re now calling for a rent-freeze and for their fellow residents to support their cause by signing the petition.

Landlords, who also had a strong presence at city hall Tuesday night, say that a rent control ordinance will prohibit them from making a return on their real estate investments and potentially change the way they process applications and how they treat those tenants if their properties were to become rent controlled.

“In a rent control area you extract the maximum and put in the minimum, that’s just the way business works,” said one landlord who identified himself as Mark Pinetta. “It does change the relationship.”

In January, a realtor association released a statement showing that all members of the council have in some shape or form said they do not support rent control, or at least feel it is not the only solution. If the initiative makes it to the ballot the council’s feelings on the matter won’t matter much as the voice of the people would have the ultimate decision-making power in regard to the future of rental regulations in the city.

“Something is on the horizon and we don’t know what that’s going to be,” said First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez. “Signature gathering may happen and we may get to that point and we don’t know what the voters will do in November. We do know right now that many of my residents are being served 60-day notices. They are being displaced.”

A report on the questions submitted by the council is expected in the next 30 days.

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