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LA leaders seek to expand rent control

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But without passage of a key ballot measure, that could be tricky

Los Angeles apartments
Around 631,000 units in Los Angeles are covered under the city’s rent control ordinance.

In Los Angeles, where more than half the city’s renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, local leaders are looking for a way to get more units of housing covered by the city's rent stabilization ordinance.

On Tuesday, councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Herb Wesson introduced a motion asking city staff to “evaluate the city’s RSO” and to provide “recommendations on how to expand the city’s ability to help more renters.”

Right now, the rent control policy, which limits yearly price increases to between 3 and 8 percent, covers roughly 631,000 units across the city. That’s close to 44 percent of all homes and apartments in LA, both rented and occupant-owned.

But elected officials want to bring more units under the policy’s fold.

“We have a moral obligation to make living more affordable in Los Angeles,” said Wesson in a statement. “By taking a fresh look at the RSO, we have the opportunity to do right by our city’s residents, property owners and next generations.”

In less than two weeks, California voters will weigh in on Proposition 10, a ballot measure that would repeal the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limits the ability of cities to place certain units under rent control.

Under Costa Hawkins, rent control can only be applied to housing built prior to 1995. In LA, the date is even earlier because the law freezes in place an October 1978 cutoff that was part of the city’s ordinance when the law went into effect.

If Proposition 10 passes, LA leaders could move that date up, applying rent control provisions to newer units. The restrictions could also be applied to single-family homes and condos, which are also exempt from rent control under Costa Hawkins.

But last week a Los Angeles Times poll found that only 41 percent of likely voters favor the measure, making its success in November uncertain at best.

If Proposition 10 fails, Costa Hawkins could still be repealed or restructured by state legislators. But in the meantime, it’s unclear what local officials could do to expand the provisions of LA’s rent control policy to more tenants.

“If Costa Hawkins isn’t repealed, this motion will produce no results,” says Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Yaroslavsky, who sat on the City Council when LA’s rent stabilization ordinance went into effect, argues that Costa Hawkins presents barriers to rent control expansion that would be difficult to surmount.

In rare cases, landlords have voluntarily placed apartments under the restrictions of the policy. Last year, the developer of a residential tower in Hollywood agreed to put all 210 of the building’s units under rent control after tenant advocates objected to the project because it would require demolition of an existing complex.

Yaroslavsky says the council could use zoning change approvals as “leverage” to get more developers to do this, but that adding rent stabilized units on a “project-by-project basis” wouldn’t adequately address the city’s affordable housing woes.

LA officials haven’t clarified how they’ll continue efforts to expand the city’s rent control policy if Proposition 10 fails; the City Council voted 13-1 to endorse the measure Tuesday.