LA County Board will draw up permanent rent control measure, despite landlord objections

Around 50K units in LA County would see tighter rent caps and tenant protections

Sep.September 10, 2019 03:12 PM
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. From left: Janice Hahn, Kathryn Barger, Sheila Kuehl, Hilda L. Solis, and Mark Ridley-Thomas. (Credit: Pedro Szekely via Flickr)
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.  (Credit: Pedro Szekely via Flickr)

Nearly a year ago, rent control advocates suffered a crushing defeat when California voters soundly rejected Proposition 10 ballot measure. But in the months that followed, several Los Angeles municipalities  implemented their own temporary rent control and tenant protection ordinances.

And on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to draw up a measure to permanently cap rents and regulate so-called just cause evictions.

The measure, which the board approved 5-0, effectively sets the terms for the regulations, and is a major blow to landlords in unincorporated L.A. County. The unanimous vote followed an hours-long session, after  more than 100 people took turns voicing their opinion on the topic.

The ordinance must limit rent increases to reflect the annual change in the Consumer Price Index — up to a maximum of 8 percent. The county’s existing temporary ordinance, instituted last fall, limits the annual rent hike to 3 percent.

While a higher cap would give landlords some breathing room, the California Apartment Association, a group representing owners of 65,000 rental units in the Greater L.A. area, questions whether it will be effective.

“I don’t think the cap would ever get that high in a million years,” said CAA L.A. Division Executive Director Beverly Kenworthy. “We think it will probably be around 3 percent. It doesn’t offer us a ton of comfort because we don’t believe that CPI is an accurate measure to base rent increases on.”

The highest annual CPI increase over the last 20 years was 3.8 percent in 2008. The CPI annual increase topped 3 percent five times since 1998, according to the Federal Reserve.

Landlords will be required to provide “reasonable relocation assistance” including cash payments, to tenants they evict without just cause or who are forced out of their units because of repairs or maintenance. Nonpayment of rent and other lease breaches would qualify for just-cause eviction.

Landlords would be allowed to charge tenants for major repairs to their building by means other than a permanent rent increase, such as a one-time fee or a series of payments.

The ordinance is expected to apply to around 50,000 units spread throughout the diverse communities of unincorporated L.A. County, which includes urban areas like Baldwin Hills and rural areas like Wrightwood on the northeast side of Angeles National Forest.

Unincorporated communities are any areas of the county that haven’t incorporated as a separate city, meaning the city of L.A., Malibu, and Santa Monica, for example, are not subject to the ordinance.

Statewide rent control effort

The debate over rent control in L.A. County is playing out as state lawmakers wrap up details on their own statewide rent control measure that Gov. Gavin Newsom has signaled he will sign. Assembly Bill 1482 would cap rents statewide at 5 percent plus inflation and introduce a suite of tenant protection measures. The measures would apply to 1.2 million units across the state, including more than 374,000 in the city of L.A. alone. It would apply to units built as recently as 15 years ago.

The existing legislation, California’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995, limits rent control to units built before that year. So, owners of newer buildings are not affected by the ordinance. But the board’s action on Tuesday instructed staff to study whether or not the county could require landlords to pay relocation assistance to tenants priced out of unregulated units built after 1995.

Developers and investors often target older properties in unincorporated L.A. County for redevelopment or repositioning. Investors say that the lack of rent control in the county made it attractive, but cautioned that rent control will force them to look elsewhere.

With AB 1482 in the cards, the CAA urged the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to hold their vote until after the state measure was decided. The CAA is neutral on AB 1482 and Kenworthy said that

“If they implement what the state does, they won’t hear anything from us,” she said.

County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents unincorporated parts of the county north of Malibu and the San Fernando Valley, pushed back on that notion before Tuesday’s vote.

“Don’t think [AB 1482] is a slam dunk to pass,” she said. “There are a thousand lobbyists at the capital, they swarm your office and tell you that rent control means nobody builds housing, and I said ‘that’s B.S.’”

Other jurisdictions in the L.A. area haven’t waited for the state either. More than half a dozen jurisdictions countywide have enacted new rent regulations since a statewide referendum to strike down Costa-Hawkins was defeated last November.

County staff has until mid-November to draw up the final rent control measure and return it to the board for a final vote.

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