Politics & Government

Sacramento rent control measure would put a cap on increases. You’ll get to vote on it in 2020

Sacramento would cap rent hikes at 5 percent under a measure that qualified Thursday for the 2020 ballot as city residents grapple with soaring housing costs.

City officials said Thursday that a petition drive, backed by rent control advocates and labor unions, has gained enough signatures — 44,000 — to qualify for the city ballot in two years. The signatures were independently tallied and analyzed by county voting officials.

The “Sacramento Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Charter Amendment” would limit rent increases as well as restrict landlords’ ability to evict renters. It also establishes an elected rental-housing board tasked with monitoring and enforcing rent controls.

Advocates, including labor unions and members of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, say the controls are needed in a city where rent increases have been among the highest in the nation over the past four years, pushing out lower-income workers.

Coalition member Margarita Maldonado said her group hears stories regularly “from people who are being displaced by high rents and the actions that landlords and corporations have taken.”

The measure is opposed by businesses, developers and apartment owners, who say it will have the opposite of its desired effect by discouraging landlords from maintaining rental properties.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg has also expressed reservations about the measure, saying he is worried it will result in less affordable housing construction. But he said this month that he supports temporary rent control, such as a 5 percent annual cap for three years that would only apply to units that are at least 20 years old.

Bob Magnuson, spokesman for Citizens for Affordable Housing, which opposes the charter change, argued that charter revisions cannot be made through a signature drive.

“This illegal ballot measure violates the California constitution by creating a newly elected government bureaucracy that would divest authority from the City Council and City Manager over regulating rental housing issues,” he said in an email to The Bee Thursday. “Creating an elected rent board constitutes a ‘revision,’ not an ‘amendment,’ to the City Charter and cannot be decided by an initiative.”

He noted that a local judge removed a previous measure from the ballot in 2009 that would have illegally “revised” the city charter to increase the mayor’s power.

Tamie Dramer, a spokeswoman for the rent control group, countered that her group’s legal team has vetted the wording and determined that it is legal.

She said the community-based effort was necessary because of inaction by city leaders.

“More than 20 percent of the electorate signed the petition,” Dramer said. “It shows they are serious about solving the problem of rent gouging. If our elected officials aren’t willing to do what needs to be done to control rents, then the residents will do it themselves.”

Specifics of the measure include:

  • Annual rent increases are tied to the regional Consumer Price Index, with a minimum increase of 2 percent and a maximum of 5 percent.
  • Landlords can’t evict a tenant unless at least one of nine specific conditions occur. They include failure to pay rent, breach of rental agreement and nuisance or illegal use of the property.
  • A landlord must pay rental assistance of at least $5,500 to relocate a tenant if the owner wants to do substantial repairs, move in, take the unit off the housing market or demolish it.
  • The city would establish an elected rental housing board that operates independently of city officials. The board would have the power to determine the annual rent adjustment.

A related and controversial statewide rent control initiative, Proposition 10, is on the November 2018 ballot. It would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, which bans cities and counties from further restricting rents on housing first occupied after Feb. 1, 1995, and on any single-family homes.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee