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Santa Monica Rent Control Board Tables Vote on Measure to Expand to More Units


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March 23, 2018 – Saying it needed more time for consideration, Santa Monica’s Rent Control Board Thursday tabled a motion calling for a measure on the November ballot to expand local rent control.

The motion asked the board to recommend a City measure for next fall’s election to expand rent control to apartment buildings that have seen many rents soar after the passage of the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act and, potentially, to others not covered by rent control.

A “yes” vote would have sent the final decision to the City Council.

But a measure on the City’s ballot would still be reliant on the success of a proposed statewide initiative which faces many odds -- including a fight with well-funded landlord and Realtor groups.

Supporters of the initiative report they have at least 25 percent of the 365,880 signatures they hope to gather by June 25.

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Santa Monica’s measure would apply to most residential rental units -- the original intention when soaring rent hikes prompted city voters to approve one of the nation's most restrictive rent control laws in 1978.

But even if approved by Santa Monica voters, the new rent control measure couldn’t be implemented unless the proposed statewide initiative, filed with the state in October, makes it to the November 6 election and is approved.

Backers at first hoped the state initiative would pressure legislators to repeal Costa Hawkins, which allows landlords to jack rents up to market rate when units are voluntarily vacated, or tenants are evicted for non-payment of rent.

But lawmakers rejected the repeal bill by Santa Monica Assembly Member Richard Bloom in January ("Santa Monica Lawmaker's Rental Bill Fails to Pass Committee," January 12, 2018).

Like 14 other California cities where voters have approved rent control, Santa Monica’s law experienced a debilitating blow with the enactment of Costa Hawkins.

Under the law, cities with rent control generally cannot include units built after 1999, when the law took full effect.

Statistics from Santa Monica’s Rent Control Board show that of the 27,542 units covered under rent control, 67 percent (or 18,417 units) have been re-rented with adjusted rents at least once since Costa Hawkins, a 2016 report from the Rent Control Board said.

Of the total, 7,716 units, or 28 percent, have never been vacated and thus are still tied to the original rent limitations of the law.

Tenants who remained in the units pay about $773 a month, compared to $2,645 for a similar market rate unit, the report said.

Meanwhile, market rents became so expensive that tenants needed a household incomes of $106,667 to afford a two-bedroom apartment, compared to $49,600 for units that had not undergone decontrol, the report said.

Opponents of rent control argue that Costa Hawkins has increased the quality and quantity of rental housing in Santa Monica by giving landlords incentives to return as many as 2,000 vacant units to the market ("Santa Monica Provides Lesson as Interest in Rent Control on the Rise," September 21, 2017).

On Thursday, board member said it needed more time to wade into both measures before acting. Among the questions that must be addressed is whether undoing Costa Hawkins would involve rolling back rents for the many units exempted for so many years.

Members did not express support for that possibility.


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