Californians to vote on local enforcement of rent control with Prop. 21

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Phillip Downey/File
California residents will vote on Proposition 21 in November, deciding whether local governments can make more units subject to rent control and limit how much landlords can increase rent between tenants.

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As tenants face challenges with paying rent amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Californians will be voting on Proposition 21, a measure that would allow local governments to expand rent control and limit price hikes between tenants.

If passed, Prop. 21 would replace the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which currently permits local governments to enact rent control on housing that was first occupied before Feb. 1, 1995. According to Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board vice chair Leah Simon-Weisberg, any property can be subject to rent control after 15 years, but Costa-Hawkins exempts properties that were considered new in 1995.

“There are properties over 40 years old with tenants that cannot receive rent control protections,” Simon-Weisberg said.

Costa-Hawkins also allows landlords to increase rent to market rates when a tenant leaves. According to Simon-Weisberg, this price increase can be up to 200%, and it may be a “huge motivation” for landlords to evict.

Prop. 21, however, would limit increases in rental rates to 15% over three years following a vacancy.

While advocates believe Prop. 21 will protect renters who cannot keep up with rising rents, those who oppose the proposition fear that rent control discourages the construction of affordable housing.

René Moya, director of Housing is a Human Right, called Prop. 21 a “homelessness prevention measure.”

“If we think the (rent) crisis is bad now, we are about to experience the mother of all homeless crises,” Moya said. “What we need to do is stop people from becoming homeless to begin with.”

Moya added that he believes Prop. 21 still guarantees landlords a “fair rate of return.”

Steven Maviglio, spokesperson for Californians for Responsible Housing, said Prop. 21 is a “double-edged sword for landlords and buyers.” According to Maviglio, Prop. 21 lacks explicit requirements for affordable housing, rent reductions and renter protections.

Maviglio said Prop. 21 would discourage affordable housing construction and result in fewer higher-priced units on the market, as some landlords take units off the market when faced with unsustainable rent controls.

“Unfortunately, (Prop. 21) makes California’s affordable housing crisis even worse,” Maviglio said. “Like it or not, housing is the ability to find some place at a reasonable price.”

In early July, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order extending eviction moratoriums through Sept. 30 for renters impacted by COVID-19.

Simon-Weisberg said she believes that Berkeley residents have struggled to save money as a result of high rents and that Prop. 21 may help create stability during COVID-19 recovery.

“There’s a lot of people who never imagined not being able to pay their rent,” Simon-Weisberg said. “We are also fearful that people are going to be facing eviction once the moratoriums end.”

Prop 21. will be voted on by California residents Nov. 3.

Contact Victoria Stafford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @VictoriaStaffrd.