Los Angeles rents are among the highest in the nation, and with buying out of reach for most residents, millions of Angelenos are stuck paying for high-priced apartments.
But rent control laws at the local and state level can make the cost of some of those units more manageable, particularly over time.
Several cities in Los Angeles County have rent control regulations on the books, and a new state law caps annual rent hikes for apartment-dwellers across California. These measures also provide some protection from eviction and cash payments in the event a renter is forced to move out of their apartment.
The rules can be confusing, but they affect a huge number of residents. In the city of Los Angeles alone, renters live in more than 600,000 apartments spread across 118,000 properties, according to the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department.
Because local laws are complex, and many renters may not fully understand what benefits of rental regulations they might be entitled to, below are the most essential things LA residents need to know about rent control rules in the area.
How does rent control work?
The rules vary by city, but all ordinances put a cap on annual rent increases for eligible units. In the city of Los Angeles, that means renters in apartments covered by the ordinance should only see their rents rise between 3 and 8 percent annually (the percentage is tied to the Consumer Price Index; this year it’s 4 percent).
That’s actually far less complicated than how allowable rent increases are determined in Santa Monica. There, caps on rent hikes are equal to 75 percent of the annual inflation rate—and a rent control board can further limit maximum rent increases by dollar amount. The latter figure is determined through a formula that averages maximum increases for some of the city’s pricier units under rent control.
In cities without rent control laws on the books, the state rules apply. Under those parameters, annual rent hikes are limited to 5 percent, plus the rate of inflation (though the total increase allowed maxes out at 10 percent). That means that if the rate of inflation is 3 percent in Los Angeles County, a landlord could raise a tenant’s rent no more than 8 percent.
Is my apartment rent-controlled?
Most apartments (but not single-family homes and condos) in California built before 1995 are subject to the state’s rent cap. But if you live in Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Inglewood, the city of Los Angeles, or unincorporated Los Angeles County, the maximum rent hike you get each year could be smaller.
A temporary rent freeze is also now in effect in Culver City. It limits yearly rent hikes to 3 percent, but will expire in August if not extended.
Whether your apartment is covered by rent control depends mainly on what type of housing it is and when it was built. Single-family homes are almost never subject to rent control (though they are in rare cases in Santa Monica and West Hollywood); duplexes, triplexes, and apartment buildings, on the other hand, usually are—depending on when they were built.
In the city of Los Angeles, only buildings built and occupied before October 1, 1978 are subject to the city’s rent-control restrictions. These dates vary from city to city and usually have to do with when rent control laws were passed. In Santa Monica, it’s April 10, 1979; in West Hollywood, it’s July 1, 1979; and in Beverly Hills, Culver City, Inglewood, and unincorporated Los Angeles, it’s February 1, 1995.
February 1, 1995 is also the key date for California’s rent control law. The Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which sets limits on rent control laws statewide, mandates that no units built after this date be subject to caps on annual rent increases.
How do I find out if my apartment is rent-controlled?
In the city of Los Angeles, it’s fairly easy to check on the date of construction for your building—and whether it’s covered by the RSO. Just enter your address into ZIMAS, the city’s property database.
An outline of the property will appear on the map and a sidebar will pop up on the lefthand side of the screen. In the “assessor” tab, you’ll find the building’s date of construction and in the “housing” tab you can find out whether it’s under rent control.
In other cities, tenants can check the county assessor’s site to check on their building’s date of construction. West Hollywood also keeps a list of all rent-controlled units and the city of Santa Monica has a service with which renters can search for apartments under the local rent control ordinance. Residents in unincorporated Los Angeles County can call (833) 223-7368 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why do only older buildings have rent control?
Amid tenant complaints about untenable rent increases in the late 1970s, the Los Angeles City Council temporarily froze rents in place, starting on October 1, 1978. During that time, the council worked out the details of the city’s current Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which applies to buildings occupied before the freeze began.
When it went into effect, Costa Hawkins, the state law, locked in place many local rent control requirements, so that Los Angeles and other cities are unable to impose rent caps on buildings constructed more recently.
Why are some rent-controlled apartments still so expensive?
When a renter moves out of an apartment under rent control, landlords are allowed to raise the price to whatever amount they see fit. That means that unless your friend or family member is already on the lease, you can’t pass down a sweet deal when you decide to find a new place.
That rule is another important element of Costa Hawkins. Critics of the bill argue this part of the law costs LA valuable units of affordable housing, since apartments offered at affordable prices generally become far less affordable once a new tenant moves in. Supporters of the law maintain that allowing units to reset to market rate gives landlords a necessary incentive to keep their buildings in good shape to attract future tenants paying higher prices.
Can I be evicted from a rent-controlled apartment?
Tenants living in rent-controlled units can be evicted, but benefit from stronger legal protections than those living in non-rent-controlled buildings.
With California’s new restrictions now in effect, tenants who’ve lived in rent-controlled units for more than a year can usually only be evicted when they are at fault—for instance, if they have missed payments or violated the terms of their lease agreement.
A landlord planning to move into an apartment or offer it to a family member can also ask a current tenant to leave.
The only other common cause for eviction is through California’s Ellis Act, which allows landlords to mass-evict tenants when taking a property off the rental market. That could mean tearing the building down, for instance, or redeveloping it as for-sale condos.
In these cases, landlords are required to pay relocation fees to help tenants find and move into a new place. Fees in the city of Los Angeles range from $8,500 to $21,200, depending on how long tenants have lived in the building, how old they are, and how much money they earn.
Under the statewide law, these fees are equal to one month’s rent.
My landlord wants to buy me out of my apartment. Is that legal?
To make rent-controlled units available to new tenants, landlords often resort to “cash for keys” offers, in which they effectively pay tenants to leave. Under the city of LA’s rent control laws, this is legal as long as landlords first inform tenants of their rights and notify the city of the agreement.
Tenants have 30 days to cancel the agreement in case their landlord isn’t following through with the terms of the buyout. There’s also no reason that tenants have to agree to the offer. Those who wish to continue living in their current apartment can simply turn the money down.
Does rent control make cities more affordable?
This is something economists and housing advocates love to debate. Supporters of the policy say it provides needed financial relief and a sense of stability for longterm residents—or those who hope to settle down in a neighborhood but don’t have the money to buy. Critics say it can actually make cities more expensive for newcomers and young people.
The authors of the same rent control study that found San Francisco tenants living in rent-controlled units saved almost $3 billion also argue that the policy contributed to the city’s astronomical housing costs by encouraging landlords and developers to cater to wealthier residents in order to offset the lower profits from units under rent control.
Of course, many factors contribute to high housing costs, and plenty of cities without rent control are also quite pricy. Rent regulations are one part of a much larger economic picture.