Santa Ana landlords must register rentals under new law

First OC city to adopt rent control will require property owners pay to support database

Santa Ana Councilmember Thai Viet Phan (City of Santa Ana, Getty)
Santa Ana Councilmember Thai Viet Phan (City of Santa Ana, Getty)

Landlords in Santa Ana will soon have to open their wallets to join an official registry of rental housing.

Santa Ana, Orange County’s first city to adopt rent control and eviction protections, will create a Rental Housing Board and a registry of rentals, the Orange County Register reported.

The new seven-member board, to launch by July, will oversee enforcement of the city’s rent control law and offer tenants and landlords a place to resolve disputes outside of court.

A new rental registry will serve as a database of the city’s rentals and rent increases. Landlords will be required to register their units each year, then pay a fee for that registration.

Those yet-to-be-determined fees — a part of which can be passed on to some tenants — will help pay for the program. Fullerton-based Revenue & Cost Specialists will conduct a study to determine the fees.

“The rental registry fee will be as low and lean as possible to not create an unnecessary burden on landlords and tenants,” Judson Brown, the city’s housing division manager, told the Register.

The changes are part of a series of amendments the City Council adopted in October to the year-old rent control and eviction protection ordinances, which have since been combined into one law.

Community advocates say the changes will strengthen tenants’ rights and protections. The amendments make it easier for tenants to know whether their buildings are covered, and how much landlords can hike their rent.

“Having the rent registry and the board will ensure we can keep rent control and just cause evictions in place for the long run,” Mextli Lopez, a volunteer with Tenants United Santa Ana, said. “We’ll have a way to enforce the ordinance and fund it.”

The California Apartment Association has objected to the new rules since the council began discussing the matter in earnest in 2021, after years of community advocacy and a more progressive council majority was elected in 2020.

State law, critics noted, already caps annual rent increases at 5 percent plus inflation for homes at least 15 years old and also requires landlords to have a “just cause” to evict tenants.

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“Rather than focus on building affordable homes, the city is wasting time making a complicated law even worse by creating a costly and complex bureaucracy to regulate the very industry that provides homes for Santa Ana families,” Joshua Howard, a spokesman for the CAA, said in an email to the newspaper.

The city’s rent control law caps rent increases to 3 percent a year, or 80 percent of inflation, whichever is less, for buildings built on or before Feb. 1, 1995, and for mobile home parks created before 1990.

The local law also calls for “just cause evictions,” limiting when landlords can force out tenants who have occupied a property for at least 30 days. Owners of homes and mobile homes may petition for a rent increase in excess of the maximum allowed “in order to obtain a fair and reasonable return on their property.”

The City Council voted 4-3 on Oct. 18 to approve amendments to its law that included creating a new registry of rental units as well as a Rental Housing Board, which will consist of three tenants — including a mobile home tenant — two landlords and two at-large members with no financial interest.

Some council members questioned unknown costs and whether it was prudent to pass on as much as half of a rental’s registration fee to tenants.

“We’re assessing fees on people who can’t really pay their rent. That’s how I see it,” then-Councilwoman Nelida Mendoza said last fall.

Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan countered those arguments, saying: “This program helps low-income people because rent stabilization has ensured that so many of our tenants are not skipping meals … skipping medications, to pay for housing.”

Recent changes approved to the Rent Stabilization and Just Cause Eviction ordinance say a landlord may request to “pass-through” costs of improving a rental unit to the tenant.

It also says tenants may petition to have various issues reviewed, such as rent increases, “pass-through” costs or to complain about their rental’s habitability. Voluntary mediation services will be available with a neutral third party beginning Oct. 1.

The cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood have rent control regulations. Other jurisdictions have already instituted eviction protections similar to Santa Ana’s, including Los Angeles County, Inglewood and Culver City.

— Dana Bartholomew

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