Sacramento Lawmakers Launch Fresh Round of Bills to Better Protect Renters

A cap on rent increases, a ban on evictions without just cause, and a statewide registry of rental units are all ideas being presented to the California Assembly this spring.

(Courtesy Photo)

We may have recently lost a battle to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, but the fight to better protect tenants from rent-gouging, evictions, and discrimination is still being waged. On Wednesday, a handful of California lawmakers announced a slew of legislation that could have dramatic effects on San Francisco’s renters. 

“Recent efforts to address one of the state’s most glaring problems have failed, but the problem has not gone away,” says Assemblymember Richard Bloom, who represents L.A. and Santa Monica. “Skyrocketing rents threaten many people, particularly seniors, the disabled, and young families with children. The time to come together around a solution is now.”

Bloom authored Assembly Bill 36, which boldly takes on Costa-Hawkins. His proposed reforms would allow cities to apply rent control to units more than 10 years old, a potentially dramatic change, as San Francisco currently only rent controls units built before 1979. The city’s Planning Department estimates that more than 32,000 rental units were built between 1980 and 2016; if even some of those were rent controlled thousands of S.F. tenants would be immune from having their rent raised at their landlord’s discretion. The bill would also allow San Francisco to include single-family homes and some condos in their rent control laws; both are currently exempt. 

Local San Francisco Assemblymember David Chiu tackles rent gouging with Assembly Bill 1482, hoping to protect those tenants who don’t live in rent-controlled units. If passed, it would place a cap on how much landlords could raise the rent on a unit year over year. Currently, landlords can legally double the rent on a unit built after 1979 in San Francisco; if the increase was standardized, renters could anticipate the increase in their monthly bills and plan accordingly. 

“Millions of Californians are just one rent increase away from becoming homeless,” says Chiu. “This legislation will help bring some peace of mind and predictability to renters, allowing them to plan for their future and stay in their homes.”

Assemblymember Rob Bonta of Oakland introduces Assembly Bill 1481, to prevent discriminatory, arbitrary or retaliatory evictions. In San Francisco, we have a just cause ordinance that requires landlords to provide a legitimate reason in order to evict a tenant; but many cities statewide do not offer the same protection for renters. 

“The housing crisis is more than an issue of supply and affordability,” Bonta says. “We must do more to stop unjust evictions that threaten the estimated 17 million Californians who rent the place they call home. My Just Cause legislation will extend fair protections that are badly needed to keep a roof over our neighbors’ heads.”

Last but not least is Assembly Bill 742 from Oakland Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks and Nancy Skinner, which would establish a registry of all rental units in California. Landlords would be legally required to report annually on all the rental units they own and how much rent they collect. Shockingly, California does not have this information; only local rent boards collect the data.

“Right now, we lack statewide data on rent hikes and tenant displacements because there’s no one agency responsible for keeping track, and not every city gathers this data,” Wicks says. “In order to achieve evidence-based policies that fight displacement and protect tenants, we need a more complete picture of the reality renters face.”

All bills will be heard in committees in March and April of this year, and they’re already garnering strong support from advocates. 

“As we work to address California’s extreme shortage of affordable housing, we must prioritize the needs of low-income renters who are threatened with homelessness by skyrocketing rents,” comments Anya Lawler, the policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Building more housing to accommodate residents at a range of income levels will take time and people struggling right now don’t have time to wait. We applaud Assemblymembers Chiu, Bloom, and Bonta for taking bold and necessary action to keep families housed and bring stability to communities that are being devastated by California’s displacement crisis.” 

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