Tenants Union Is Pushing for Rent Control in Pasadena. Here's What That Could Mean for Both Renters and Landlords.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Jason Henry
Pasadena Star News

The Pasadena Tenants Union will soon begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to cap rent increases at 4.5 percent per year and require landlords to pay moving costs if a tenant is evicted without adequate cause.

Union members started the process last week, and they’ll need more than 12,000 signatures to get the charter amendment before voters in Nov. 2018.

The group is pushing for an initiative because they found little support from city leaders, according to Nicole Hodgson, a member of the union and one of the filing parties.

“We need to take control of our housing crisis and put it out there for everyone to make a decision, not just City Hall,” she said.

Earlier this year, the average rent in Los Angeles County was $2,271, a 2.5 percent increase from the year before. And that number continues to rise, according to research from Axiometrics.

In Pasadena, the average was nearly $300 higher.

Under the proposed initiative, rent increases in Pasadena would be tied to the Consumer Price Index, but could not exceed an increase of 4.5 percent in a year. The base would be set at the cost of rent as of Nov. 15, 2017. Landlords would have no limitations on prices for new tenants.

“It’s a raise that may happen every year that the tenant can afford and the landlords get a return on their investment,” Hodgson said.

Landlords would also have to pay a relocation fee if they terminate the tenancy of an occupant in good standing. The language still allows for a landlord to evict someone who isn’t paying rent, who is using the property for an illegal purpose, or who has breached a lease agreement, without paying for relocation.

A rental housing board, consisting of five members and funded through rental fees, would act as a mediator in housing disputes. The fees would be split between landlord and tenant.

The board would establish regulations, such as the allowable annual rent adjustments or the amount of relocation fees, and enforce those measures through the court system when needed. Proponents of the initiative say the board would act independent of the City Council and the City Attorney.

The union says renters are being priced out of the city as landlords chasing luxury rates have increased rents by as much as $800 per month. Often, the rent increases happen when a property is sold to a new owner, Hodgson said.

Leon Khachooni, the director of the Foothill Apartment Association, said the association generally opposes rent control. But the Pasadena Tenants Union’s proposal was too early in the process for him to speak about it specifically.

“Until they actually have a petition, and the language is there and it’s been cleared by the City Attorney, I wouldn’t know what to make of it,” Khachooni said.

In general, he said rent control often ends up hurting lower income tenants as landlords who were not raising rent before may choose to have annual increases because of the limitations. For example, if a landlord knows they can’t raise it by 10 percent when needed, they will opt for the maximum amount every year, he argued.

State limitations placed on rent control ordinance by the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act also exempt buildings built after 1995. Khachooni said this often means rent control ends up affecting smaller landlords who own older buildings, rather than the big property management companies and developers who are building luxury apartments throughout Pasadena.

“I really want to know how they think it is going to help with affordable housing, because it tends to hurt it in every real world example that we have,” he said.

Hodgson said the proposed initiative tries to find a balance for landlords and tenants. Each can submit a petition for an additional increase or decrease in rent, through the housing board, based on certain requirements meant to ensure a landlord’s right to a fair return on their investment, she said.

Pointing to battles over rent control in the Bay Area, Hodgson said the union expects state and regional apartment associations to come out against the push and to heavily fund an opposition.

“It’s going to be a fight,” she said.

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