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  • Santa Monica Rent Control Marks Thirty Year Anniversary

    April 2009

    On April 10, 1979 Santa Monica citizens went to the polls and voted to pass the Rent Control Charter Amendment. Thus, April 10, 2009 marks the thirtieth anniversary of rent control in Santa Monica.

    Just as the Santa Monica voters intended thirty years ago, the purpose of the Law remains “to alleviate the hardship caused by the serious housing shortage by establishing a Rent Control Board empowered to regulate rentals in the City of Santa Monica so that rents will not be increased unreasonably….” The Law protects the affordable housing supply, a cardinal purpose, and promotes the stability of the community.

    The enactment of rent control in Santa Monica can be traced, in part, back to high inflation in the second half of the 1970’s and the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, a state ballot measure that placed a cap on property tax rates and thereby dramatically reduced them. Proponents of Proposition 13 promised that part of the property tax savings landlords realized by changes in the law would be passed on to tenants in the form of lower rents. Rents, however, continued to skyrocket, fueling a growing tenant movement.

    With rents soaring and apartment supply diminishing due to demolitions and the rapid rates of condominium conversions, rent control became a matter of survival for Santa Monica renters.

    Under the organizing guidance of the Campaign for Economic Democracy, rent control activists in Santa Monica mounted a precinct-by-precinct campaign. The coalition included many senior citizens trying to survive on social security and meager savings.

    The organization now known as Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) led the charge to pass one of the strongest rent control laws in the country. Provisions of the law include: limited annual rent increases, eviction protections, controlling the removal of rental units and a guarantee that owners will make a fair return in the operation of their rental units.

    The passage of rent control was not without its detractors. There have been repeated challenges to the law, often through the courts, to little avail. However, two laws passed by the California legislature have introduced major changes to the local law--the Ellis Act in 1986 and the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act in the mid-1990’s. The Ellis Act allows landlords to go out of the rental housing business, evict tenants, and withdraw units from the rental housing market. The Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act is a vacancy decontrol-recontrol law that allows owners to raise rents to market rate when a vacant unit is rented, and then annual rent increases are controlled for the length of the tenancy. After ten years of vacancy decontrol, 56 percent of the controlled units have been rented at market rate.

    Almost 65 percent of the Santa Monica residents are renters. They are a vital part of the community, and the fact that 44 percent of the controlled rental housing units remain occupied by long-term tenants is an indication that rent control has benefitted Santa Monica by supporting neighborhood stability.

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