Landlords and Rent Control Board members found themselves in rare agreement Tuesday night, as they urged the City Council to drop the idea of a companion measure to Proposition 10, the controversial statewide initiative that would give cities more power over rent control. While the two groups disagree on the merits of the Affordable Housing Act, both agreed an amendment to the City Charter in the event it passes would have been unnecessary and premature.
“Nobody wants it,” Action Apartment Association lawyer Rosario Perry said Tuesday. City leaders had argued a companion measure could be necessary to prevent catastrophic rent rollbacks caused by a sudden change in state law. Despite assurances the idea was intended to help property owners by raising the base rent in the City Charter to 2018, rather than 1978, property owners continued to lobby against it.
After assurances from the City Attorney that commissioners would be able to avoid chaos in November, the City Council unanimously voted to do nothing.
“There would be protection. The Rent Control Board would need to act quickly and act well,” City Attorney Lane Dilg said.
“But they could do that immediately after Prop 10 passed, if it did?” Councilmember Kevin McKeown clarified. “They could be prepared ahead of time but they could act quickly?”
“Yes,” Dilg said.
Proposition 10 would repeal Costa Hawkins, a state law that prohibits rent control in new construction and mandates “vacancy decontrol,” meaning landlords have the right to charge new tenants market-rates. The measure itself does not make any changes to local rent control laws, but would give the municipalities the ability to expand policies if they choose to.
In April, the RCB’s top attorney, Stephen Lewis, flagged wording in the City Charter that pegs the base rent in Santa Monica to 1978. He was initially concerned that without Costa-Hawkins, new rents could plunge to as low as $580 per month for a one-bedroom in the Pico neighborhood.
After several debates by the RCB and the Council, the City Attorney’s office clarified that the Board would have the authority to draft regulations to prevent sudden rollbacks in November, should Prop 10 win.
“I’m very confident that the Rent Control Board…has the authority, and in fact, the obligation to act if the Costa-Hawkins repeals passes,” Commissioner Nicole Phillis said Tuesday. “This is something we take incredibly seriously and the last thing I think we want to do is spur hysteria in our community about something that is difficult for folks to understand.”
While the group that established rent control in the first place, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, had proposed specific expansions to local laws should Prop 10 pass, both the RCB and the City Council declined to embark on significant policy shifts given the time restriction and uncertainty of whether Proposition 10 will pass.
If it does, city leaders have promised to take up the issue once again in November.