The Rent Control Battles Happening in California
Rent control fights have been erupting across California as housing costs have continued to soar. California’s rent control movement, strongest in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is again gaining steam as the state faces an extreme housing shortage that has led to skyrocketing rents and rampant tenant displacement. State officials call the housing situation an unprecedented crisis, intensified by the lowering of state and federal funding for low-income housing development. Activists are launching new rent control campaigns up and down the state and they are also pushing state lawmakers to repeal a 1995 law that limits the type of housing covered under rent control. Aimee Inglis, associate director of the advocacy group Tenants Together, stated:
We’re in the middle of a housing crisis, and again and again the state has failed to act, when it should be taking action on the displacement of renters and addressing the funding gap created by the gutting of redevelopment agencies. Once again, we’re faced with this narrative that’s really just a version of trickle-down economics, that you can just build a ton of market-rate housing and somehow that’s going to solve this crisis. The Legislature needs to be challenged on what kind of state this is going to be – is this just a playground for the rich?
Some cities that were early adopters of rent control, like San Francisco and Santa Monica, actually have fewer units covered under local laws than cities that later adopted it. This is due to a state law passed in 1995 called Costa-Hawkins that states that rent control can only be applied to housing from the date a local ordinance is adopted and prior. Rent control laws help low-income people freeze the amount a landlord can charge per unit the date local ordinances are adopted. However, if a tenant moves, the rent can then be raised to market rate, re-adjusting the baseline for rent control when a new tenant moves in. The Bay Area has been a recent focal point for the rent control battle with Richmond and Mountain View enacting rent control in 2016 and passing companion measures that make it harder for landlords to evict people. The rent control battle will continue across California as the housing prices continue to increase.