Capitol Alert

Both sides mislead on California rent control initiative

The warring factions in California’s high-stakes battle over rent control have spent more than $32 million on social media, mail and television ads to influence voters ahead of Election Day.

Tenants’ rights activists say Proposition 10 is needed to ease the state’s housing affordability crisis. The real estate industry says the measure would make it worse.

Both sides are using misleading messages about the overall impact Proposition 10 would have — on the cost of rent, protections for tenants, the availability of housing and the volume of new construction.


Proposition 10 would repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a state law that for 20 years has strictly limited local rent control laws. Under the law, local laws cannot apply to single-family homes, condos or any housing built after 1995. Proposition 10 would remove those restrictions. It also would remove the legal requirement that cities allow landlords to raise the rent to market-rate prices on controlled units once a tenant vacates.

Backed by the California Apartment Association and the California Association of Realtors — powerful groups that have successfully killed several local rent control measures in recent years — landlords and real estate investors argue that the initiative would not make housing more affordable, but will drive up rents and stymie construction of new housing.

“Prop. 10 will take rental housing off the market, reduce construction of affordable and middle-class housing when we need it most and make it harder to find a place to live,” one advertisement airing on television stations across the state says.

“And Prop. 10 has no provisions to actually treat homelessness,” the ad continues.

The claim that rent control laws hurt production of new housing is misleading. Historically in California, construction has followed broad economic downturns and upswings, regardless of whether a city had strong rent control in place or not.

Local zoning laws and community opposition to new development projects — both of which factor into investors’ financing decisions — also profoundly affect local homebuilding.

It’s true the measure does not specifically address homelessness, but it would allow cities to adopt strong rent control that would help people remain in their housing.

Rent control laws have been proven to take rental housing off the market. That is because a state law called the Ellis Act allows landlords to evict tenants and get out of the rental housing business if they choose. Cities that once had the strongest rent control laws in the nation have seen a decline in rental units over the past four decades.

Saying the initiative would “make it harder to find a place to live” is a murky claim. It could make it more difficult for a new tenant to find an affordable apartment because people with rent-controlled units tend to stay put longer than those living in non-rent controlled housing. But the initiative could also keep people from having to move.

Pro-rent control groups, backed by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its president, housing activist Michael Weinstein, say the initiative would give cities an important tool to address the deepening housing crisis as the state undertakes measures to spur new housing construction. It would allow cities to place rent caps on any share of the housing they want, regardless of when it’s built, and help tenants remain in their housing if they so choose.

“A movement of renters and homeowners is building across our state, taking on our housing crisis by voting yes on 10,” another ad airing statewide says. “Read Prop. 10 yourself — a simple measure empowering your local community to take on skyrocketing rent and predatory housing practices.”

The ad is misleading in that it makes a blanket statement about skyrocketing rents and predatory housing practices. While the cities across the state, especially in coastal areas, have seen soaring rent, rents are not skyrocketing everywhere. Also, rents have begun to cool off in recent months, according to real estate tracking firms.

Data on predatory housing practices, such as hostile evictions, is largely anecdotal.

The state and counties do not include in its eviction data reasons a tenant was forced to leave. It could be because the tenant didn’t pay rent, or it could be a case of retaliation, such as if a tenant asked for housing repairs and was then evicted because of the request.

The coalition backing the measure does include some homeowners, but the majority of homeowners — and renters — oppose the measure, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

It is true that the initiative, if passed, would give local communities broad authority to pass rent control. If they choose to, cities would be allowed to determine how best to craft local ordinances.

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