Despite the defeat of a ballot measure that would have allowed communities to establish their own forms of rent control, rent freezes are being imposed on properties in Glendale, Altadena and other unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County amid a growing tenants’ rights movement in Glendale and Pasadena.
Although Proposition 10 — which would have repealed the Costa-Hawkins Act, a state law preventing multi-unit buildings and single-family homes built after 1995 from being placed under rent control ordinances — lost by 19 percent across the state, the measure was embraced by 54 percent of Pasadena voters, or 29,349 of the 53,502 ballots cast, according to final election tallies released by LA County Registrar-Recorder’s Office.
“We are thankful for all the hard work, dedication and amazing solidarity for supporting ‘Yes on Prop 10 campaign’ to repeal a corporate real estate law, Costa Hawkins,” said Nicole Hodgson of the Pasadena Tenants’ Union (PTU). “The power of tenant voices has just begun to be heard.”
An effort to place a rent control ordinance on the November ballot failed when the PTU was unable to gather enough signatures to qualify. A two-bedroom apartment in Pasadena rents for $2,090 a month, nearly double the national average of $1,180, according to apartmentslist.com, a website covering the apartment rental marketplace.
Because of high rents, “What we’re seeing now is people being moved out of the city,” said PTU member Michelle White.
Prior to the defeat of Proposition 10, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 (with one abstention) in favor of capping rent increases at 3 percent a year in unincorporated areas, including nearby Altadena. The freeze only applies to buildings constructed before 1995 and excludes condos and single-family homes.
The freeze is designed to prevent landlords from raising rents while the Board of Supervisors crafts a rent stabilization plan.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the rent freeze is needed because large corporations are scooping up properties and spiking rents.
The ordinance will last for six months while the county considers a permanent alternative.
“They care more about big profits, than the wellbeing of their tenants,” Kuehl said. “Because they don’t care, we will.”
The vote angered real estate brokers and landlords.
“Are you now going to start telling the gas stations what they can sell their gas for? Are you going to tell Albertsons what they can sell their milk for?” one real estate broker asked at the meeting in which action was taken.
“I don’t know, I’ll talk to Chevron about that,” Kuehl replied.
The lone dissenting vote was cast by Kathryn Barger whose supervisorial district includes Altadena, Pasadena and Glendale, where a rent control movement is also under way.
On Nov. 27, after a long, contentious meeting that stretched into the early morning, the Glendale City Council voted in favor of a two-month rent freeze, but left supporters of rent control disappointed by reneging on a promise to enact a rent control ordinance. Instead, the Glendale council ordered staff to prepare a “right to lease” ordinance.
Starting in December, landlords will not be able to raise rents more than 5 percent while city staff constructs an ordinance tnat would protect tenants from what they see as unfair increases.
Under a right to lease ordinance, all tenants in Glendale must be offered a one-year or two-year lease, and that contract must contain specific information on annual rent increases, although rent hikes will not be capped. The situation in Glendale has escalated over the past several months, the Glendale Tenants’ Union (GTU) twice attempting — but both times failing — to put a rent control measure onto the Nov. 6 ballot.
Mike Van Gorder of the Glendale Tenants Union told the Pasadena Weekly that he was disappointed in the decision.
“The hikes in rent will be even higher if the landlords can only raise them once a year,” Van Gorder said. “If you can go to the buffet table only once you will pile on your plate as high as you can. The City Council broke its promise.”
Things appeared to be moving in favor of rent control advocates last week after the City Council instructed staff to write right to lease ordinances and rent stabilization ordinances and hold later discussions on the merits of each ordinance, but when council returned last Tuesday, council members sang a different tune and asked only for the right to lease ordinance.
“Rent control is not the answer,” said Glendale Council member Paula Devine.
Devine cited concerns for landlords that are not “disreputable,” as well as real estate investors who might be harmed by the ordinance. Devine argued that a rent freeze is tantamount to rent control.
Councilmember Vartan Gharpetian was hesitant to support the freeze, even declining to second the motion, but he ultimately voted in favor of the measure. He committed to voting against any extension of the freeze.
Both Gharpetian and Devine supported a right-to-lease ordinance. Devine would have preferred to wait until staff developed a right-to-lease ordinance instead of instituting a freeze.
“We’ve been discussing how to handle housing affordability for two years,” Devine said. “What’s two months?”
Mayor Sinanyan disagreed by stressing the urgency of the situation.
“It’s not just two years. It’s not just time,” said Sinanyan. “It’s lives that have been disrupted.”
Councilmember Ara Najarian recused himself from the vote after a ruling was issued by the California Fair Political Practices Commission — a state body that monitors governmental ethics — which found that his vote would represent a conflict of interest. Najaran owns apartment units in Glendale and would be financially impacted by this freeze. Najarian said he is appealing the decision.
Council chambers were packed with both rent control advocates and opponents.
About two-thirds of Glendale residents are renters, and according to the city’s own data, 63 percent of them are “burdened by housing overpayment,” meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
Only a handful of Southern California cities have rent control ordinances, including Los Angeles, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a Californian making minimum wage would have to work 92 hours a week in order to afford the average one-bedroom apartment.
Supporters of rent control claim that affordable housing impacts everything, including local schools, while detractors maintain that it leads to a decline in the quality of controlled housing.