This Thursday, January 11th at 9am the California State Legislature will hold the first ever hearing on the repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. The repeal of Costa-Hawkins is a top priority for tenant organizations around the state because it limits what cities can do with local rent control laws. To keep tenants in their homes, we’re demanding the repeal of Costa Hawkins and supporting local campaigns for rent control.
What is Costa-Hawkins?
Costa-Hawkins is the gift that keeps on giving for landlords and real estate speculators. It is one of the biggest reasons we face runaway rents in so many California cities. A special-interest state law backed by the real estate industry that passed in 1995, Costa-Hawkins ties the hands of cities when it comes to protecting tenants from landlords who charge exorbitant rents. Costa-Hawkins prohibits rent control on certain properties (post-1995 construction, single family homes, and condominiums) and bans “vacancy control,” leaving landlords free to charge any amount at the start of a tenancy.
How did we get Costa-Hawkins?
Landlords tried everything to ban rent control. First, they fought the adoption of rent control laws in the 1970s. When these laws passed despite their opposition, they took to the courts to strike down the laws as unconstitutional, but they failed, with the courts upholding the constitutionality of rent control. Next, the landlord lobby went to the state legislature to ban rent control and almost succeeded, but their ban on rent control was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in 1976. Landlords turned to undermining rent control when they couldn’t ban it. They passed the Ellis Act in the 1980s and the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act in 1995. Both laws severely weaken local protections for tenants.
The landlord lobby has spent a great deal of money to convince people that rent control is controversial and harmful. But Californians — homeowners, renters, and even many individual landlords — overwhelmingly support rent control. The last state ballot measure to ban rent control was defeated by 22 points in 2008. Two new cities, Mountain View and Richmond, passed and successfully defended new rent control laws for the first time in 30 years. A recent poll shows support of 60% for rent control. This is why the industry is so concerned about AB 1506 and the ballot measure that is circulating to repeal Costa Hawkins. The landlord lobby knows how popular rent control is. They know their only hope to stop it is through misinformation and scare tactics.
Why Repeal Costa-Hawkins?
Costa-Hawkins was an overreach by the landlord and real-estate industry. Repealing Costa-Hawkins just allows cities to choose the type of rent control that is right for their communities and the state should get out of the way. Landlords will do just fine if Costa-Hawkins is repealed. Rent control laws are legally required to allow landlords a fair rate of return. Stronger rent control laws in Berkeley and Santa Monica stood up to court challenges before Costa-Hawkins forced them to deregulate their local laws.
California should prioritize struggling renters, not unlimited landlord profits, during this housing crisis. In response to drastic cuts in the HUD budget and affordable housing construction incentives at the national level, it is now even more important that we have the ability to fairly regulate rents. The state has begun to take strides to incentivize the construction of more affordable housing, but has done virtually nothing to support tenants, stabilize communities, and allow cities to stop rent gouging and displacement.
Tenant protections are a key defense against rampant real-estate speculation, which has led to gentrification and rising rents, disproportionately affecting communities of color. The diversity of California is what makes us who we are. It makes us great. When people are priced out of their homes and communities, they find themselves homeless or having to leave the state. As a state, we must focus on investing in communities and preventing the displacement of the people who live in them. Rent control is one of the most powerful defenses against gentrification and mass displacement and we must repeal Costa Hawkins NOW to close the loopholes that undermine rent control.
Our campaign to topple Costa Hawkins is gaining steam. To join the struggle and urge your State representatives to support Costa-Hawkins repeal (and stay involved beyond the fight in the Capitol), click here.
The following Costa-Hawkins infographic was produced by the Housing Now coalition, which Tenants Together is a part: