Voters will again decide on the repeal of Costa-Hawkins as militant tenants' advocates bring it to the forefront
We are amused by how tenants' activists use clever phrasing of bills put forward. It goes something like, "Prevent Tenant Displacement Act," "Stop Homelessness Act," and so forth. We wouldn't be surprised to see legislation called the "Avoid Evil and Do Good Act."
Most pressingly, we now have a ballot measure coined the "Justice for Renters Act" and is on a trajectory to the ballot box after an announcement that the backers of the Act have garnered enough signatures for the California Secretary of State's office to qualify the measure.
This phraseology is clever because who can be against tenant displacement, homelessness, and justice for renters?
No one, including those of us in the landlording community. We are in the business of providing housing, not uprooting people, and we want tenants to be treated fairly. Existing laws on the books afford tenants an abundance of protections.
Is the third time the charm?
Michael Weinstein, the head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has been hellbent on repealing the Costa-Hawkins Act, a law enacted in 1995 that places limits on rent control policies that cities and other jurisdictions can implement.
This includes vacancy decontrol - the prohibition of localities setting the rent for units that have become vacant - as well as exempting newly constructed buildings and single-family homes from local rent control.
This radical cause has vast resources behind it.
Act one: Proposition 10 was sponsored in 2018. Act Two: Proposition 21 was put to the voters in 2020. Both propositions attempted to repeal Costa-Hawkins and shared the same fate of being defeated.
All or nothing
There have been repeated attempts to chip away at Costa-Hawkins in a piecemeal fashion and one of them came in the form of SB 466, which would have gradually brought a vast portion of housing stock under rent control. This measure recently died on the California Senate floor.
Most of the measures floated thus far have aimed to incrementally erode the rights of landlords. For 49ers fans, play the running game and steadily move the football up the field with short gains. No need to make a big play.
Yet the Justice for Renters Act is a Hail Mary. As the quarterback, Michael Weinstein wants a diving catch in the end zone, and rather than modifying the protections afforded to tenants under Costa-Hawkins, he wants to repeal it altogether.
What say us?
When we first started our legal careers, there were three rent control ordinances in the Bay Area, namely San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. Now there are seventeen, and there is no reason to believe that the calls for increased tenant protections will not translate to new laws in other locales, if not statewide.
Although voters have twice rejected the repeal of Costa Hawkins, we live in a different era now. No longer a fringe movement in dense urban areas, tenant activism has spread to suburbia. We are not gamblers, but we think that efforts to repeal Costa-Hawkins will be decided by the state of the economy in November 2024. Remember the term, "it's the economy, stupid?"
"The rent is too damn high" has been emblazoned on the banners of protesters, but the messaging has resonated with the silent majority, so we'll see what the future holds.
In a parting thought, while we are dedicated to educating and advocating our community of rental housing providers, we do not work on an island and there are several industry trade partners who work behind the scenes to raise the voice of landlords. Join us arm and arm in supporting them.