State legislation related to affordable housing, rent control and landlord/tenants was more notable this year for what failed than what succeed, according to a report presented to the Rent Control Board last week.

Brian Augusta, the RCB’s lobbyist in Sacramento, updated the board on significant new legislation, and while there was some good news for renters, many of the perennial issues continued to falter at the state level.

Of the notable failures this year, Augusta singled out legislation on water meters and bed bugs.

Legislators have been fighting over the submetering of water meters for years. According to Augusta, California State Senator Lois Wolk reintroduced a proposal to require individual water meters in multi-family housing. Augusta said the bill, SB7, had a promising start and initial backing from landlords, builders and tenants rights groups. However, a last minute amendment would have required union plumbers to install the meters. He said landlords/builders balked at that provision and the measure stalled.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to continue to work on that issue for another year,” he said. “But there remains a lot of interest among the stakeholders.”

Bill AB 551 sponsored by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian suffered a similar fate. The bill would have established a set of principles and procedures for handling bed bug infestations. Augusta said the number of infestations has risen dramatically in areas like Los Angeles County and the issue has become a growing source of tension between landlords and tenants. Despite what appeared to be early consensus, support faltered late in the legislative season and the measure was delayed pending further conversation.

The governor vetoed a pair of measures that utilized tax credits to support affordable housing. One would have expanded a low-income tax credit program while the other would have leveraged tax credits to pay for seismic retrofits.

Both were vetoed alongside other tax credit proposals, something the governor said he did as a result of the state’s budget.

“Despite strong revenue performance over the past few years, the state’s budget has remained precariously balanced due to unexpected costs and the provision of new services. Now, without the extension of the managed care organization tax that I called for in special session, next year’s budget faced the prospect of over $1 billion in cuts,” he said in his veto letter. “Given these financial uncertainties, I cannot support providing additional tax credits that will make balancing the state’s budget even more difficult.”

Augusta said legislative wins included a provision that prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against landlords who accept Section 8 vouchers, greater restrictions on the use of pesticides in apartments and protections for domestic violence victims who need to leave an apartment.

Absent from Augusta’s report but of significant important to locals is the Ellis and Costa Hawkins Acts. Ellis allows landlords to evict rent control tenants if the landlord plans to exit the rental market and Costa Hawkins allows rents to be set to market rate once a unit is vacated. The combination of the two laws has enabled some landlords to evict tenants, idle the property for several years or redevelop it, then return it to market at substantially higher rents.

Two federal congresswomen, Maxine Waters and Karen Bass have asked the California State Congress to consider legislation that would impose a moratorium on the Ellis Act. The City Council voted to support the request in August of this year

In August of this year, the City Council voiced support for a measure, however, no action was taken at the state level.

Rent Control board member Todd Flora said advocating for some kind of Ellis Act activity was his top priority and he said the lack of activity from state lawmakers, given the request came from highly respected national leaders, was surprising.

“These members of Congress, one of whom was a speaker, got crickets on the Ellis Act and I think that’s very telling.”

Augusta said the issue could return in the coming year.

“The last chapter on that has not been written,” he said.

While action is possible, Augusta said it’s by no means certain and motivation will have to come from individuals who represent districts heavily impacted by rent control.

“The politics of that particular issue are complex and pretty tough but I know it’s on the minds of legislators that represent those cities,” he said.

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