Three California Cities Vote Rent-Control Laws

Rent-control initiatives put on ballots in several San Francisco Bay Area cities by residents trying to deal with crushing housing costs met mixed results Nov. 8. 

In the East Bay, Richmond, a working-class city of 100,000 people north of Berkeley, voted to enact a rent-control law. But Alameda, a city of 75,000 south of Oakland, defeated the stronger of two rent-control measures on the ballot. Oakland and Berkeley both voted to tighten their eviction protections. 

 In the Silicon Valley area, two cities, East Palo Alto and Mountain View, voted to limit rents. But San Mateo and Burlingame both rejected rent-control measures. 

Richmond’s Measure L, which will limit rent increases on apartments built before 1995 to 3 percent a year and make it illegal for landlords to evict tenants without just cause, won two-thirds of the vote. It will cover about 10,000 apartments. 

“This measure alone will not solve our community’s housing crisis, but it constitutes an important step to help seniors and working people stay in their homes and to prevent evictions without just cause,” the Richmond Progressive Alliance, the largest group backing the measure, said in a statement. “Richmond must redouble its efforts to develop more affordable housing.” 

The 1995 cutoff date is mandated by a state law that prohibits rent controls for apartment buildings constructed after then and for all singlefamily houses and condominiums. It also prevents local governments from restricting vacancy increases: Vacant apartments must be rented for market rate, and then rent controls can be reapplied. 

Oakland’s Measure JJ, approved by a 3-1 margin, will extend the city’s just-cause eviction rule to about 12,000 apartments built between 1983 and 1995. It also requires landlords to petition the city Rent Board for rent increases that exceed the federal Consumer Price Index, instead of stopping them only if the tenant files a petition within 60 days. “Rents in Oakland are among the highest in the nation, and people are being forced from their homes every month through illegal rent increases and unjustified evictions,” the Oakland Tenants Union said.

In Berkeley, the eviction-protection Measure AA passed with 72 percent of the vote. It will require owners who take over units themselves to give the evicted tenant $15,000 to $20,000 for relocation assistance. It also bans owner move-in evictions of families with children during the school year. 

In Alameda, an amendment to the city charter that would have capped rent increases at 65 percent of the CPI lost by a 2-1 margin. Backed by the Alameda County Labor Council, teachers, and firefighters, it would have also barred “no cause” evictions. The California Apartment Association, a landlord trade group, spent more than $150,000 to defeat it. City voters instead ratified a weaker ordinance that sends rent increases of more than 5 percent to mediation.

In San Mateo County, which comprises the southern San Francisco suburbs and part of Silicon Valley, the California Apartment Association and a local realtors’ group spent more than $1 million to defeat rent-control initiatives in two cities. In San Mateo, a measure that would have limited rent increases and prohibited evictions without cause in apartments estimated to house almost one-third of the city’s 100,000 residents got only 40 percent of the vote. Burlingame, an affluent San Francisco suburb, defeated a similar measure by a 2-1 margin. 

 Mountain View, a city of about 80,000 in the heart of Silicon Valley, had two initiatives on the ballot and picked the stronger one. Measure V, covering apartments built before 1995, won narrowly. It will roll back rents to what they were in October 2015, tie future increases to the CPI, and limit evictions. The competing measure would have required binding arbitration for rent increases of more than 5 percent in pre-1995 buildings.

In East Palo Alto, whose 30,000 residents are heavily Latino and black, a rent-stabilization law won almost 80 percent of the vote. It will limit annual rent increases to 80 percent of the CPI and defines a “maximum allowable rent.”