Prop.10 would open the door for local governments to enact their own rent control laws

By Gary Walker

In March, union members of UNITE HERE 11 protested outside The Ellison apartment building, reflecting tenants’ growing disgruntlement with a lack of affordable and long-term housing in Venice
Photo by Maria Martin

Proposition 10, which would repeal a state law prohibiting cities from enacting rent control laws, has real-world consequences for residents like Merry McCord.

“I love my rent-controlled apartment because otherwise I would not be able to live in Los Angeles,” said McCord, who for the past 21 years has lived in a two-bedroom unit in Mar Vista, near Venice Boulevard.

“I’ve done my best to be a really good tenant, and we’re creating our own community here,” said McCord.

But because she has known her landlord for years and has heard what the so-called “mom and pop” small apartment owners are facing in terms of utilities and repair costs to  their properties, she understands why they might oppose the ballot initiative.

“Landlords do deserve to earn a living and to make a fair return on their investment,” said McCord, a freelance artist.

For some voters, therein lies the dilemma of Proposition 10, appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot. The proposition would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act of 1995, which prevents cities from enacting rent control laws on units built before 1995. Passage of the ballot initiative would allow cities to enact their own versions of rent control.

A poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California last month found support for the measure trailing 48-36%, with 16% undecided.

Michael Millman, a Mar Vista resident who owns apartment buildings in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, opposes Proposition 10 and says if the measure passes there will be uncertainty for landlord associations, particularly for landlords like McCord’s.

“There’ll be a lot of wait and see,” said Millman. “The worst thing that could happen is unit prices could be rolled back substantially.”

Potential rent adjustments to pre-Costa-Hawkins levels were a concern for the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, which also opposes Proposition 10.

“If Costa-Hawkins is repealed by the state’s voters this November, we expect the rent control board to confirm that base rent under the rent control law will be those rents in effect and will not be rolled back,” wrote Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce President Laurel Rosen to the Santa Monica City Council earlier this year.

Stephen Lewis, general counsel for the Santa Monica Rent Control Board, said the board has consistently said they would not pursue rental rollbacks if voters pass Proposition 10.

“At its next meeting, the board will consider a temporary regulation to prevent base rents in rent controlled apartments from rolling back to their 1978 levels,” Lewis said.

Additionally, the board will consider a freeze on rents in rent- controlled apartments that are vacant.

“I know we’re in the midst of the worst affordable housing crisis in L.A.’s history, and landlords and developers will do just about anything to get their hands on money-making properties,” said Bruce  Kijewski, a tenant at  the Ellison Apartments in Venice.  “I strongly support Proposition 10 because I don’t have a better choice.”

McCord likes the status quo, where landlords can charge market rates after a tenant leaves a unit, but supports cities having the right to enact rent control.

“I’d like to see all cities have some sort of rent control because I think it gives neighborhoods a sense of continuity and stability,” she said.

Proposition 10 opponents claim the public is on their side.

“We’re finding that the more people find out what’s in the initiative the less they support it. Most people understand that we’re in a housing crisis but this is a simple solution that will make matters worse,” said No on Prop. 10 spokesman Steven Maviglio.

Opponents of abolishing Costa-Hawkins have outspent proponents, raising over $20 million to $12.5 million as of the last reporting date, according to state campaign finance records.

In Marina del Rey, renters are waiting to see how a rent stabilization ordinance recently approved by the Board of Supervisors would impact them. County attorneys are sifting through the complicated lease agreements with the county and lessees of the marina’s residential buildings to determine which units might be included under rent stabilization, but that could be rendered moot if Proposition 10 passes.