The Real Deal Los Angeles

LA tenant group joins statewide push to repeal rent control restrictions

Activists say the number of rent-stabilized units in the city continues to shrink
By Dennis Lynch | February 19, 2018 12:15PM

Residential buildings in downtown Los Angeles before 1978 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

There are now 600,000 rent-stabilized units in Los Angeles, yet the city has still been called the least affordable of any in the country. Now, a group of tenant organizations are joining a statewide effort to repeal a California law that restricts the number of rent-controlled properties.

They want to get rid of the Costa-Hawkins Act, a 1995 law that put limits on future local rent control laws and put a freeze on existing local laws.

The tenant groups are trying to do their part to collect the roughly 400,000 signatures needed to force the ballot initiative amid a deepening affordability crisis in the city and across California. Curbed first reported on their effort to gather names. Already, 200,000 signatures have been collected toward the cause, mostly by paid gatherers statewide, according to Los Angeles Tenant Union founding member Walt Senterfitt.

Around 100 L.A. Tenant Union volunteers went door-to-door over the weekend, mostly in Mid-City, South Los Angeles, and Crenshaw, where they collected 1,000 signatures.

In L.A., which the University of California Los Angeles last year deemed the most unaffordable city in the country, froze the 1978 Rent Stabilization Ordinance, That move only made buildings built before that year eligible for rent control.

It also allowed landlords to raise rents freely after rent-restricted tenants voluntary leave an apartment, and barred rent caps on single-family housing, duplexes and condos.

The deadline to submit the signatures is in late April. Volunteers simultaneously gathered signatures to push rent control laws in Glendale, Pasadena, Inglewood, and Long Beach.

Senterfitt said the inability to regulate more rent-stabilized units in L.A. and the strict existing guidelines means the number of affordable units will continue to shrink.

“They can raise is 200 or 300 percent when they move out, so [it incentizes them to] harass tenants, lie to them, buy them out — it incentivizes displacement,” he said.

An Assembly bill to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act failed to pass the body’s Housing and Community Development Committee last month. Los Angeles isn’t the only California municipality that’s dealing with an affordability problem. Just 13 of the 539 cities and towns statewide approved enough affordable housing to meet local needs in 2016, according to a report by the Department of Housing and Community Development. Under Senate Bill 35, local governments in those cities and states must expedite projects that incorporate affordable housing.