State committee rejects bill to expand rent control options for California cities

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A state assembly committee voted Thursday to reject a bill with broad implications for the ability of California cities to impose rent control restrictions on local landlords.

The bill would have repealed the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which exempts newly constructed housing from rent control laws and prevents cities from limiting a landlord’s ability to raise rents on a unit after a tenant moves out.

Hundreds of residents from across California packed the Capitol building to speak for and against the measure—so many that the committee had to restrict public comment to a simple yes or no statement.

Assemblymember Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, who authored the bill, told the committee that a repeal would not create “statewide rent control,” but would simply provide local governments with the power to make their own rules.

But opponents of the bill argued that cities would use this freedom to impose legislation that would hurt landlords and steer developers away from markets like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where the housing supply is slim.

“Repealing Costa Hawkins does not help the housing crisis,” said Assemblymember Marc Steinorth of Rancho Cucamonga, “it perhaps exacerbates it.”

Bloom acknowledged concerns of other assemblymembers, but he said the bill was simply one step toward addressing a statewide shortage of affordable housing.

“I don’t think there’s one bill that eliminates the problem,” he said.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta of Oakland, a co-author of the bill, agreed, adding that cities should be allowed to preserve affordable housing however they see fit.

“We ought not to deprive our local leaders with a tool that they can use to protect their tenants,” he said.

But Assemblymember Ed Chau of Monterey Park said a repeal was “too risky” and abstained from voting (the bill received was one vote shy of the four votes it needed to clear the committee).

The bill was introduced in February of last year, but Bloom put it on hold after landlords cried foul. In October, tenant advocate groups, along with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, brought the issue back into the public spotlight when they proposed a ballot initiative that would repeal Costa Hawkins without the help of state lawmakers.

That measure may now be the best chance to reverse the restrictions imposed by the law, despite assurances by Committee Chair David Chiu that debate over statewide rent control policies would continue regardless of the outcome of the vote.

Chiu, another co-author of the bill, argued that California’s housing crisis had become so severe that new construction alone could not address the immediate concerns of the people affected by it.

“We have a crisis today,” he said.

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