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Tenant groups say they have enough signatures for Costa Hawkins repeal measure

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Mayor Eric Garcetti is lending support to the initiative

Mayor Eric Garcetti and tenant advocates rallied in support of Costa Hawkins repeal Monday.
Photo by Elijah Chiland

Carrying signs that read “The Rent is Too Damn High,” Los Angeles tenant advocates announced today that they have gathered enough signatures for a November ballot initiative to repeal California’s Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act.

Repealing Costa Hawkins would give California cities the option to expand rent control. In Los Angeles, the law prevents the city from applying rent control to buildings constructed after October 1978.

In the midst of a massive statewide shortage of affordable housing, supporters of the repeal say cities need more leeway to keep rents affordable for longtime residents.

“Sacramento took that away,” said Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti.

The mayor joined LA’s rally on Monday, which was timed to correspond with similar events in Oakland and Sacramento. Garcetti is the highest-profile political figure to lend his support to the ballot measure so far.

In the face of rising rents, he asked voters to “give the power back to the cities where you live—to the representatives that you elected—to do something about it.”

Garcetti did not elaborate on what changes to LA's Rent Stabilization Ordinance he might push for should the repeal effort succeed. Press secretary Alex Comisar tells Curbed that the mayor is primarily focused on expanding local control over the rules.

"Mayor Garcetti believes we need every tool available to end this housing crisis, and protect families from being forced out of their communities by rising rents," Comisar wrote in an email.

Costa Hawkins went into effect in 1995. It prohibits cities from capping rent increases for properties built after February of the same year. In Los Angeles, the bill also froze in place the terms of the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, meaning that only buildings constructed prior to October 1978 are subject to rent control.

The bill also exempts single-family residences from rent control laws and allows landlords to that re-list rent-controlled units at market rate prices after tenants move out.

The latter provision gives property owners more chance to profit on their investments when area rents are high, but renter advocates say that market rates aren’t affordable to many residents.

Activists, with the support of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, launched the repeal initiative in October. Since then, they say they’ve gathered over 565,000 signatures. That’s well over the 365,880 needed to qualify the measure for the November ballot,

The ballot initiative follows an attempt earlier this year to repeal Costa Hawkins in the state legislature; that bill failed to advance past a committee vote.

If Monday's news conference was any indication, the ballot measure faces a fierce battle from property owners and their representatives. Opponents of rent control and members of a group called the Fair Housing Coalition of Los Angeles picketed the event, and at one point confronted speakers at the podium, warning that new rent control measures would only worsen the city’s affordable housing shortage.

“Property owners are the legs the city stands on,” said coalition member Candice Graham.

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation—LA’s top political donor in 2016—promised the organization would help to overcome a pitched fight from the state’s “real estate lobby.”

Garcetti was similarly optimistic. “I know we can get this done in November,” he said.