National News

The Expensive Rent Control Fight on the California Ballot

Posted October 15, 2018 11:21 a.m. EDT

The 2018 elections officially begin this week when Californians start receiving their vote-by-mail ballots. California being California, the ballots will be full of confusing ballot initiatives, one of the more contentious of which is a statewide rent control measure called Proposition 10.

Proposition 10 would repeal a decades-old state law called the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Costa-Hawkins is much reviled among tenant advocates because it limits how and how widely cities can impose rent control.

Specifically, it prevents cities from applying rent control to single-family homes and apartments built after 1995. It also ensures that landlords can raise rents as much as they like after a rent-controlled tenant leaves.

Economists right and left are almost universally opposed to rent control as a policy tool because various studies show price caps can make affordable housing problems worse in the long run. There are a lot of nuances to that debate.

Proposition 10 was trailing in recent polls, but even if it fails, it’s possible and even likely that more California tenants will get some form of rent control in the coming years. Two years ago, when Silicon Valley tenants pushed a handful of new rent control laws, it marked the biggest tenants rights uprising in decades. Tenants rights groups have since pushed various other rent control drives up and down the state, and this year, in addition to Proposition 10, there are various local rent control measures on ballots in Santa Cruz and elsewhere.

The evictions and economic displacement that have accompanied rising home prices have awakened a long-dormant renters’ movement. Proposition 10’s main backer, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles, has promised to bring it back if voters reject it this year. One way or another, at both the state and local level, California voters are likely to continue seeing rent control battles on ballots for years to come.