Santa Monica Rent Board Endorses State Bills to Turn Back Clock on Housing Lease Laws

Friday, March 24, 2017
Jonathan Friedman
Lookout News

Santa Monica Assemblymember Richard Bloom’s bill that would allow for the return of extreme rental housing price control eliminated two decades ago has received a mixed reaction statewide.

But his bill has the full support of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board. The board voted unanimously Thursday to endorse Bloom’s proposal (AB 1506).

The board also endorsed another of Bloom's bills, AB 982, that would require landlords to provide a one-year notice to tenants before evicting them under the Ellis Act, which allows property owners to get out of the rental business.

“This is not an affordable city,” said Commissioner Caroline Torosis, who then cited various statistics from a report presented earlier in the meeting by the rent board staff about the local housing market.

Among those statistics are that a household income of more than $100,000 is needed to afford a home with two or more bedrooms and that the average rent in Santa Monica has nearly doubled since the State enacted the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act in 1996.

Costa-Hawkins outlawed the policy of vacancy control in which a rent ceiling price could remain on a unit even when there was tenant turnover.

Landlords today in Santa Monica can only increase rent slightly each year for an existing tenant. But because of Costa-Hawkins, they can bring the rent up to the market rate once a tenant leaves.

Bloom’s bill would repeal Costa-Hawkins.

The board heard from several landlords who said Costa-Hawkins is a good thing. Pat Cramer said in “the rent control battle days” before 1996, “nobody could find a unit” to lease.

“There were no signs,” he said. “There was probably discrimination. If there was a sign, you’d have 50 people show up. You’d end up taking the highest income people. You’d rent it as is."

He added, "I don’t think it’s progress going back to the battle days.”

Another landlord said property owners were unable to do upkeep on buildings because they were receiving such a small amount of money from tenants.

He said Santa Monica rightfully earned the nickname at the time, “Skid Row by the Sea.”

Commissioner Todd Flora dismissed these comments, saying they came from “ideological folks that are interested in preserving the existing law.”

He also noted that housing prices would not be going down to the levels of 20 years ago if Bloom's bill became law.

“The great amounts of money that property owners are making now because of Costa-Hawkins are not going to be taken away,” Flora said.

He continued, “Cities would simply have the power to re-engage vacancy control.”

Bloom, who served on the Santa Monica City Council from 1998 to 2010, introduced the bill last month with co-writers Assemblymen David Chiu (D–San Francisco) and Rob Bonta (D-Oakland).

It was referred to the Committee on Housing and Community Development last week for review.

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