In last Tuesday’s meeting, City Councilmembers voted to support the Justice for Renters Act by the narrowest of margins, passing the motion with four votes for yes, one vote for no and two abstentions.

The motion had been made at the request of Mayor Gleam Davis and Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick. Moreover, the California Secretary of State has verified that the Justice for Renters Act has qualified for the November 2024 state ballot.

Not only does Costa Hawkins prohibit cities from establishing rent control over single-family dwellings, condominiums and rental units built after 1995, it also prohibits “vacancy control” where the base rent the landlord charges may not increase upon the departure of a tenant from a rental unit.

The Act removes this ban on rent control in California, giving local communities the right to stabilize rents and make apartments more affordable for low-income and middle-income renters. Thus Repealing Costa Hawkins will help local government address one of the root causes of homelessness—skyrocketing rents and unaffordable housing.

“What this essentially does is, for lack of a better analogy, take the foot of Costa Hawkins off the neck of the city and allows the city to make decisions that are better suited to keeping a more diverse population,” said Davis.

Torosis, who spent six years on the Rent Control Board, said, “Costa Hawkins is the single biggest threat to renters in this state. And it is a threat to the 70% of our residents who are renters, it prevents our ability to regulate rents, for units built after 1979.

“There’s a direct correlation between when we fully implemented Costa Hawkins in 1999 in the city and the diversity, both from an ethnic standpoint and socio economic standpoint, of the residents of the city,” Torosis said.

If the Act does pass in 2024, it would not immediately affect the way the city enforces rent control. Currently the city only sets rent control on units in apartment buildings constructed in, or before, 1978 and the city’s ordinances cannot be changed without voters instigating a change with a city-wide ballot.

Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete, herself a renter in Santa Monica, gave an impassioned and empathic speech about living in rented accommodation.

“As someone who lives in rent control in a building that is not well maintained, I can tell you that when people do move out and there’s the [opportunity] to raise it to market rent, market rates, they do … but they continue to not maintain the building.

“Once you’ve seen one, you know which ones are the buildings that are poorly maintained. And there’s constant movement [in my building] because we have lots of students from SMC. So it’s constantly being rented at the higher rate, at the higher rate, at the higher rate,” she said.

“I grew up in rent control and [it’s] literally the only reason my family is still here … We have a countertop that’s from 1963 and windows that are single pane, mold issues … and all sorts of problems. And every time we look to move to anything comparable for a family, it’s impossible to find anything less than $5,500 a month, that’s an apartment, that’s three bedrooms, two baths,” Negrete said, adding, “We feel fortunate that we’re 14 blocks from the beach, but we also feel trapped. I’m trapped by the apartment I live in, I don’t have the ability to rent another apartment.

“Until we came up with something [new], the current rent control regulations would still exist where they [landlords] can raise it to market rent, we’re just removing the inability to have more flexibility as a city to really look at rent control,” she said.

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre expressed his desire to direct staff to bring this item back as a study session, saying, “Because I think we all need to be educated on Costa Hawkins and what it would look like if this is repealed,” before making a motion that was seconded by Councilmember Phil Brock.

However, Torosis said, “This has been on the agenda for two meetings in a row, this has been on the ballot before, we’ve had our city manager send us an analysis and I think we’re pretty clear,” before making a substitute motion to approve the item as written, which was seconded by Davis.

Davis, Negrete, Torosis and Zwick all voted in favor of supporting the Justice for Renters Act. Both Brock and de la Torre abstained and Councilmember Christine Parra was the only vote against.

“It’s not because I don’t agree with stabilizing the the rental market, but it’s [because] I still have some concerns and I’m in full agreement with Councilmembers de la Torre and Brock, that we need to study this and talk about this quite a bit more before we blanket approval on supporting something that we clearly all don’t understand,” Parra said.

Both Brock and de la Torre have filed paperwork relating to their council positions indicating they have received income from renters. Zwick also lists income as having come from renters.

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.