Last night, the City Council voted 4-1-2 to support the Justice for Renters Act that will appear on the November 2024 ballot. The measure would repeal the Costa Hawkins Act and give municipalities greater ability to set rent control in two important ways should they choose to do so.
First, Costa Hawkins prohibits cities from establishing rent control over single-family dwellings, condominiums, and units built after 1995. Second, it prohibits “vacancy control” where the base rent the landlord charges may not change upon the departure of a tenant from a rental unit.
“<Justice for Renters> takes the foot of Costa Hawkins off the neck of the city,” testified Mayor Gleam Davis who introduced the motion.
If Justice for Renters does pass, it would not immediately change the way the city enacts rent control. The city’s ordinances are enshrined in the city charter and cannot be changed without the voters making a change with a city-wide ballot ordinance. Currently the city only sets rent control on units in apartment building built in 1978 or before.
Councilmember Christine Parra was the lone vote against the measure, with Councilmembers Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre abstaining. The trio noted that the measure won’t appear on the ballot until November 2024 and there was time for the Council to hold a study session and hear from experts before making a final decision to support, oppose or not make a statement on the ballot measure.
All three councilmembers reiterated their support for rent control broadly, but said they didn’t have enough information to support this ballot measure at the moment.
Oftentimes, controversial council motions are decided by a 4-3 vote with Davis and Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick voting on one side and Brock, de la Torre, Parra and Councilmember Lana Negrete on the other side.
But this time, it was Negrete who swung the vote and proved the strongest statements in support of the measure while still noting that rent control can be a complicated issue to fully understand.
“I grew up in rent control,” Negrete began. “It’s literally the only reason my family is still here…Anytime we look to find something that is comparable as a family, it’s $5,500 a month.”
Negrete continued noting that her windows let in cold air in the winter and her kitchen counter is cracked and her landlord doesn’t make any repairs that he doesn’t have to by law in rent control units. Her story isn’t a unique one, she discussed the plight of middle class families that have to decide between living in a unit that isn’t properly maintained in an older building in Santa Monica or living in a nicer unit, or even owning a house or condominium, somewhere else.
But Negrete isn’t just approaching the issue as a renter in a rent-controlled apartment and a Councilmember, she also noted how the regional housing crisis negatively impacts small businesses such as the Santa Monica Music Center that she co-owns.
“There is a waterfall effect on small businesses,” she continued. “I can literally not find people that live in the city to work for me because I can’t pay the large corporate salaries.”
Now that the Council has supported the Justice for Renters Act, the city will release a formal statement in support of the measure, the city’s seal can be used in materials to promote the ballot measure, the city will send a letter to state legislators and officials stating the city’s support and city officials and elected officers can represent the city’s support at public events on behalf of the city, not just representing themselves.
“Costa Hawkins is the biggest threat that renters face across the state,” said Torosis, a former member of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board, said while introducing the legislations. Now she can say on behalf of the city that the way to end that threat is to pass the Justice for Renters Act as well.