Landlords could prove irresistible target in housing debate

The California housing crisis remains an intense focus in the state Legislature, with lawmakers touting dozens of bills they argue could bring relief to residents stressed by high rents and mortgages.

But if some progressives get their way, the state will embrace a traditional, if deeply controversial, tactic – rent control – to address the problem.

An initial effort to bring rent control to the table was launched in February by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, with the introduction of Assembly Bill 1506. The measure would have scrapped the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a 1995 state law that put sharp limits on local rent controls. Not only could such restrictions not be put on newer housing, the law essentially exempted single-family houses, duplexes and condos from rent-control laws in place in 15 California cities. Bloom’s measure would have greatly expanded the number of homes that could be subject to rent control, including new stock.

But earlier this month, Bloom abruptly announced he wouldn’t pursue AB1506 this year and would bring a revised version up next year. The Sacramento Bee reported the decision was driven by intense opposition from the California Apartment Association and the California Association of Realtors.

Nevertheless, some groups – starting with the Los Angeles-based tenants’ rights group Coalition for Economic Survival – are pressing for other politicians to take up the cause. The coalition says there is a moral, humanitarian and economic case for sharply expanding the 600,000-plus older units in the Los Angeles area now subject to rent control. The group’s executive director, Larry Gross, told LA Weekly that the 1995 law that Bloom sought to replace punishes low-income families by allowing rent-controlled units to be increased to market levels when someone moves out.

The San Francisco-based group Tenants Together continues to feature a web page urging support for AB1506 and depicts the Costa-Hawkins law as a favor done for special interests with no consideration for how it affects Californians’ lives.

From rent-controlled home to Airbnb listing

Meanwhile, several Los Angeles landlords are facing a possible crackdown from the City Council over allegations that they forcibly evacuated renters in rent-controlled units using provisions of a 1985 law that allows such evictions if the properties are being taken off the rental market. But instead of doing so, some landlords allegedly began renting the units on websites for short-term rentals like Airbnb. Initial approval has been given to a new city law tightening up eviction procedures.

Such allegations about bad behavior by landlords suggest why rent control could prove a resilient issue: It provides a target to blame for those upset with the housing crisis.

Anti-landlord sentiment was strong in two Bay Area  communities – Mountain View and Richmond – which approved ballot measures in November that seek to limit rent increases and make evictions more difficult. Local unions and social-justice groups endorsed the measures. If such Democratic factions offered support at the state level, rent control would likely find a sizable constituency.

These dynamics reflect why Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, told the Los Angeles Times that the “rent control debate is very quickly assuming a central place in the broader discussion of affordable housing.”

A large majority of economists agree that rent control is counterproductive because it discourages new construction and maintenance of existing housing, and prominent Democrats such as California Gov. Jerry Brown and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have said adding housing stock provides the only long-term path to housing affordability.

But for Democrats who agree with Bloom that the housing crisis is taking a toll on many Californians’ quality of life, a housing policy that focuses on the long term may not have as much appeal as something with the immediate impact of rent control – whatever its history.

2 comments

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  1. Sean
    Sean 18 April, 2017, 09:21

    I predict young people in California will think rent control is a great idea and with their enthusiastic support,a bill will pass in the next year. Then they’ll find the legislation works great for incumbent renters who don’t ever move (i.e. older renters) but not well at all for young adults changing jobs and moving on a regular basis. So younger renters will see the rental supply dwindle and price rise for what’s left, just like the Affordable Care Act caused insurance prices for young adults to rise while options were reduced.

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  2. Howard Epstein
    Howard Epstein 18 April, 2017, 11:24

    The social-injustice tenants’ groups that believe that housing providers are the lowest life form on the planet and truly presuppose that profit is evil and property is theft want all rental housing to be public housing. Here in San Franfreakshow rent increases are limited to 60% of area CPI. The vendors housing providers depend on for goods and services do not have government imposed restrictions on price increases. If housing providers decide to move themselves or relatives into tenant-occupied housing they own the property owner must pay a huge ransom to the tenants. After having years of tenant problems many small property housing providers, owners of property of 4 units or less and live in one of the units, keep the rental unit(s) vacant by choice. The estimates of the number of vacant by choice units vary from 12000 at the bottom and 22000 at the top. Others sell their units tenants in commons. Either way, there are a substantial number of rental units no longer available.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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