By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Rent control advocates fighting for security for renters were willing to break the law here at the State Capitol late last week – they tried three times, as reported in the Davis Vanguard, but the California Highway Patrol and Assembly Sgt at Arms were not cooperating.
But now, two of three measures designed to alleviate the high rents plaguing millions of Californians have passed key committees, and maybe those gambits to “impress” lawmakers that change needs to come soon for renters were worth it.
Led by AACE and other rent reform groups, advocates last week occupied the offices of two lawmakers on key committees, and then the Governor’s office. No one was arrested or removed – although the Governor’s office did let protestors stay overnight, they were denied them restrooms, food and water overnight.
The Governor’s Chief of Staff also reassured demonstrators that Gavin Newsom had talked to “key lawmakers” about how he wanted the housing bills to pass – although she had to walk part of that statement back the next day when some lawmakers said they had not been encouraged to support rent control measures.
Attempts to pass meaningful legislation to help renters have failed in the past, maybe in part because many lawmakers are, in fact, landlords themselves. A CalMatters news report said at least 25 percent of lawmakers are also landlords, and some have admitted their “understanding” of the issue may have colored their view of the legislation.
In fact, of the 30 or more lawmakers/landlords, six sit on key housing committees.
But Tuesday, AB 1481 (Rob Bonta, D-Alameda), was approved 7-3 by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and moves to the floor of the lower house.
And AB 1482 (David Chiu, D-San Francisco) late last week was OK’d by the Assembly Housing Committee by a 6-1 tally.
So, someone maybe did get the message after all.
The third part of the Rent Reform package is AB 36 (Richard Bloom, D-West Los Angeles) – it was pulled late last week for lack of votes to pass, but is expected to reappear at some point, say proponents. It would allow local cities and counties to amend rent control laws easier and more completely by circumventing state rent control laws.
AB 1481 would, if signed into law, would prohibit so-called “no fault” evictions where a landlord can terminate a month-to-month tenancy for no reason. The practice, according to tenant groups, results in more evictions, causes health issues, poverty, homelessness and causes tenants to make few complaints about habitability issues because of fear of eviction, according to the bill analysis.
AB 1481 would stop those “no fault” evictions by prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants without “just cause,” which would be failure to pay rent, breach of the rental agreement or other “just cause” reasons.
The measure has support of labor, community, faith groups, legal services organizations, local governments, but was opposed by the rental housing industry and CA Association of Realtors/
AB 1482, according to its author, would “protect nearly 15 million Californians from large unforeseen rent increases without diminishing property owners’ ability to make a fair return on their investment. Renters shouldn’t have to choose between paying rent and keeping a roof over their heads or feeding their families.”
The measure mandates that landlords cannot increase the rental rates for current tenants any more than five percent plus the cost of living increase for the immediately preceding 12 months, said the author, providing relief for renters faced wit doubt digit increases, often annually.
Supporters argue that state housing costs have ballooned – in 1970, California housing costs were 30 percent higher than the U.S. average. But currently, state housing costs are 250 percent more than the U.S. average.
“Over half of renters and 80 percent of low-income renters are rent-burdened, meaning they pay over 30 percent of their income towards rent. Research by Zillow from 2018 found that some areas with a high percentage of rent-burdened households experienced a rapid increase in homelessness, and areas where high rents are combined with high poverty experienced triple the homelessness rate of the average community,” according to the committee analysis.
Opponents argued in committee that all of the housing reform bills would “create a huge disincentive to invest in rental housing at a time when California so desperately needs more homes. Study after study has demonstrated that price controls end up crippling the commodity that is controlled, including housing.”
However, the coalition of groups supporting these bills said Tuesday that “This is a significant achievement in the effort to protect California’s 17 million renters. But there still is a great deal of work to be done before these protections become law. This legislation, when passed, will protect tenants from unreasonable rent increases and unjust evictions.
“For many the passage of this legislation is about survival. No tenant, who has done nothing wrong, should be forced from their home and no tenant should face the dramatic rent increases we’ve seen over the past few years. AB 1481 and 1482 are complementary measures, with AB 1482 protecting tenants from dramatic rent increases, and AB 1481 keeping tenants in their homes.
The coalition sponsoring the Keep Families Home legislative package includes ACCE, Public Advocates Inc., PICO California, SEIU CA, TechEquity, the Western Center on Law and Poverty. AB 1481 and AB 1482 are supported by diverse groups, including California Labor Federation, California YIMBY and the California State Building and Construction Trades Council.