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Rent control decision coming to California voters

A hotly contested battle over rent control in California just got more explosive.

Tenants rights activists have qualified for the November ballot an initiative that would clear the way for cities and counties across California to pass strong rent control laws, as local and state lawmakers struggle to address a widening housing crisis that has pushed people into homelessness and out of the state in search of cheaper living elsewhere.

The Secretary of State's office reported Friday evening that proponents behind an initiative to repeal a 1995 state law called the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act have gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the November 6, 2018 ballot. The existing state law sets tight limits on the type and number of housing units that rent control can apply to.

Repeal of the 23-year-old law would allow cities and counties to pass far-reaching rent control laws, or amend ordinances strengthening existing laws.

At present, at least 15 cities across California have rent control laws that restrict how much landlords are legally allowed to raise the rent each year. Most of the cities, from San Francisco to Berkeley, to Beverly Hills to Los Angeles, adopted rent control ordinances before the 1995 state law passed.

After it was adopted, rent control was frozen in California.

Cities and counties are still allowed to pass new rent control laws, but those with existing ordinances cannot change them. Large amounts of housing stock is exempt, including all housing built after 1995. Rent control cannot apply to any type of housing built after that year. Single-family homes are exempt, as are condos and duplexes.

Should the initiative pass in November, cities and counties would be allowed to change existing laws, or adopt new ordinances without any restrictions.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla is expected to formally announce June 28 that the initiative has qualified.

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