Seven California Cities to Vote on Rent Control

With housing costs in the San Francisco Bay Area skyrocketing, five suburban cities will vote this November on whether to enact rent-control laws.

In the East Bay, rent-control initiatives are on the ballot in Richmond, a working-class city of 100,000 people north of Berkeley, and Alameda, a city of 75,000 south of Oakland. In the Peninsula south of San Francisco, the affluent suburb of Burlingame and the Silicon Valley cities of San Mateo and Mountain View will be voting on similar measures.

The measures would also mandate that landlords can evict tenants only for just cause. They would be limited by a state law, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. which prohibits rent controls for apartment buildings constructed after Feb. 1, 1995 and for all single-family houses and condominiums. That law also prevents local governments from restricting vacancy increases: Vacant apartments must be rented for market rate, and then rent controls are reapplied.

In addition, residents of Oakland, the East Bay’s biggest city, will be voting on whether to strengthen its rent and eviction laws. Measure J would require landlords to justify rent increases of more than 1.7 percent a year and extend the just-cause eviction rule to apartments built between 1983 and 1995. 

Meanwhile, voters in Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 about 55 miles north of San Francisco, will decide whether to repeal its new rent-control law. Passed in August, it capped increases at 3 percent a year and covers about 11,000 apartments. Petitioners backed by the California Apartment Association, a real-estate trade group, got the measure on the ballot—suspending the law until after the vote.

The average rent for vacant apartments in the Bay Area has increased by two-thirds in the last six years, from about $1,500 a month to $2,500, according to figures cited by the San Francisco Chronicle in September. Diane Fjelstad of San Mateo, who helped collect signatures for the Measure Q rent-control initiative there, got that $1,000 increase all at once: Her new landlord raised the rent on her two-bedroom apartment from $1,850 to $2,850 last October.

“I’m a retired psychiatric worker, living on a pension. I’m 63 years old and have a daughter living with me who is working full time. To pay the additional rent, I took out Social Security early,” she told the Chronicle. “Because we don’t have renter protections, if he raises the rent again, I will be displaced. I’m already cost-burdened, with about 35 percent of my income going to rent.”

Measure Q would limit annual rent increases to between 1 and 4 percent, pegged to the Consumer Price Index; prohibit evictions without cause; and create a commission to oversee its implementation, funded by fees from property owners. It would cover about 11,700 apartments, estimated to house almost one-third of the city’s 100,000 residents.

As of Oct. 1, the California Apartment Association and a San Mateo County realtors’ group had raised almost $1 million to campaign against the rent-control initiatives there, according to the San Mateo Daily Journal.

Richmond’s Measure L would control “excessive rent increases and arbitrary evictions” while ensuring that landlords get “a fair and reasonable return on their investment.” Practically, that means limiting increases to 3 percent a year. It would cover about 10,000 apartments. 

The Richmond City Council failed to pass an emergency rent freeze and ban on evictions without cause last month, as it did not gain the necessary two-thirds majority. Supporters said it was urgent because many tenants have had their rents raised by up to $500 in the past year, and many others have received notices telling them to move out within 60 days.

“We are facing a wave of evictions in Richmond,” Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin said at a hearing just before the vote Sept. 13, the East Bay Times reported. Multiple tenants told the Council that they believe their landlords are trying to get them out before the election so their apartments will be vacant if rent control is approved, according to the East Bay Express. “I question the motives of why they’re putting us out right before the ballot,” said Vincent Justin, a Richmond renter who recently received an eviction notice.

California cities that already have rent controls include Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley.