April 19, 2019

The War on Rent Control

“On August 24, the tenants of two buildings near the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles received letters from their landlord notifying them of a rent increase of over $800 a month. The increase was not a result of repairs or tax increases but rather, the letter said, of the upcoming election in November.

The section of the ballot in question is Proposition 10, which, if it passes, would repeal a 1995 state law prohibiting local governments from enacting rent control on apartments and homes built after that year (or even earlier in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco). According to the letter: “Although you don’t want higher rent and we did not plan on charging you higher rent, we may lose our ability to raise rents in the future. … Therefore, in preparation for the passage of this ballot initiative we must pass along a rent increase today.” If the ballot initiative failed, however, the landlord, Rampart Property Management, promised to “revisit the rent increase with a desire to cancel it.”

For Maria (who prefers not to use her real name out of fear of retaliation by her landlord), waiting to find out was too big a risk. An immigrant from Guatemala, she pays $600 a month to share a bedroom with her 11-year-old son in a two-bedroom apartment—another family lives in the second bedroom, with a fifth tenant taking the living room. A couple hundred dollars extra in rent would not be feasible for Maria, who lives off welfare after losing her job last year. A month later, Maria received a second letter billed as an “olive branch”—a reduction of the increase to $238 a month. When Maria and several other tenants went to the property manager to ask for an explanation, he told them that so many tenants had threatened to leave that the landlord had no choice but to lower the proposed rent hike.”

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