The term “rent control” applies to specific sets of laws adopted by some cities. These laws generally deal with limiting increases to rental rates and restricting the practice of tenant evictions. In some cities, such as Los Angeles, the rent control laws even require that a landlord provide financial assistance if tenants are required to relocate.
The overarching aim of rent control law is to ease the effects of escalating rental rates on tenants and neighborhoods that are supposedly affected by hyper-inflated rent increases. This simple guide to Los Angeles Rent Control should give you some basic law to help you with understanding the ordinance.
Rent Control in Los Angeles and Other Cities
Rent control laws are specific to the cities that adopt them, and have no jurisdiction in other cities. Depending on the structure of the laws, they may not even apply to every rental unit in the adopting city.
It is not uncommon for tenants to mistakenly believe they are covered by rent control protections, when in reality their rentals are included by virtue of the construction year or another factor.
How To Know if Your Unit is Covered By the Los Angeles Rent Control Ordinance
Tenants renting in Los Angeles, should not assume they are automatically covered; they should call the Los Angeles Rent Control telephone number at (866) 557-RENT to ensure that a specific unit is under the jurisdiction of the rent control laws.
In the L.A. area, there are rent control laws in place in Los Angeles city, as well as West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica. It is important to note that Los Angeles itself includes such named neighborhoods as Hollywood, Venice, San Pedro, Northridge, Van Nuys, and Encino. Although people casually consider these to be separate towns, they fall within the jurisdiction of Los Angeles rent control.
Nearby cities such as Downey, Pasadena, Torrance, Burbank, and Glendale have no rent control laws in place. Because people tend to think of the entire area as “L.A.,” they may mistakenly believe they are covered by L.A. rent control. To clarify the matter, a tenant may refer to the water and power bills to see what city receives those funds.
Rent Control Restrictions in Los Angeles by Building
Within the geographical jurisdiction of Los Angeles rent control laws, there are exceptions and restrictions for specific types of structures.
When the first rent control laws were enacted in 1978, landlords feared that restricting rental rates might negatively impact the construction of additional apartment buildings in the future. With that concern in mind, lawmakers exempted all units that would be built from that point on, resulting in a complete lack of rent control for any structure built after 1978.
Single homes are also excluded from rent control, even if they were built in or before 1978.
The exclusion applies only to single-family dwellings standing alone on a lot. Duplexes or multiplexes are covered if they were built before 1978.
Additional exclusions include hospitals, motels, and college dorms which are not discussed in this post.
Rental-Rate Increase Restrictions
The underlying purpose of rent control is to restrict the range of rental-rate increases imposed by landlords, thereby keeping the rent within a reasonable and affordable range. For units covered by rent control, the maximum increase in rent is 3%.
The “Costa-Hawkins” state law, enacted in 1995, served to decontrol some aspects of the rental market. Under this Rental Housing Act, landlords are permitted to offer a rental unit at any market-value price after that unit is voluntarily vacated by the previous tenant (or after that tenant is evicted for cause). While any given tenant is continuously living in the unit, however, the rate increases will be restricted to the 3% maximum in rent-controlled areas.
Rent Increase Notice California
A 2001 revision to the Civil Code (Section 827) requires a landlord to give notice to tenants 60 days prior to any rent increase that would put the total increase above 10% for the year. Note that the imminent increase itself need not be ten percent; the calculation is based on the full year’s increase. For any increase that raises the rent by ten percent or less, 30 days’ written notice is required.
In the case of a long-term lease, such as a year contract, the landlord cannot change the rental rate during the term of the lease. If the tenant wishes to stay after the year’s lease is up, the landlord is permitted to change the rent at the time of lease renewal. In rent controlled units, the increase must stay within the maximum permitted percentage, but in uncontrolled units (such as those built after 1978, or single-family homes) the landlord may make any change whatsoever, according to the current market value of the unit. Still, the landlord must provide advance written notice (at least 30 days in every case, and 60 days if the rent is increasing by more than 10%) before renewing the lease at a higher rental rate.
A little-known provision of Los Angeles rent control law is the fact that landlords must pay interest on any security deposit being held for a tenant in a rent-controlled apartment. In any apartment, the tenant is entitled to the return of the full deposit when they vacate the premises, or an itemized list of any deductions that were taken from the deposit. In a rent controlled apartment that tenant is also owed interest on the deposit, calculated at the current interest rates for the amount of time the landlord has had the deposit.
In rent-controlled housing, the rental rate can only be changed once per year, and the increase must stay within the allowable percentage. Even if the lease itself is month-to-month, the landlord may not raise the rate more frequently than annually.
The natural fallout from rent control is the fact that it can provide a major disincentive for landlords to continue renting. Because they can’t raise the rates beyond a certain small percentage, many landlords are opting to demolish units or sell their property to developers rather than maintain rental units where their hands are tied regardless of the property’s market value as a rental.
Rent Control and Eviction Protections under the Los Angeles Rent Control Ordinance
Because a landlord can raise rent without restrictions after a unit is vacated by a tenant, it is often in the landlord’s interest to encourage tenant turnover. With that fact at the fore, legislation has also been enacted to protect tenants from self-interested eviction by landlords, seeking to raise rental rates.
In Los Angeles, Ordinance 175130 was introduced in 2003, prohibiting landlords from altering any terms of tenancy, aside from legal rent increases, without consent of the existing tenant.
Ordinance 174501 addresses issues that arise when a landlord terminates a rental assistance program such as Section 8. Specifically, the landlord is not permitted to raise the tenant’s share of the rent, even though the assistance money is no longer coming in. Without this protection, a landlord could effectively force out a Section 8 tenant by terminating the assistance program and demanding the full amount of rent from the tenant.
If a landlord terminates a tenant’s lease in order to vacate an apartment for a manager or family member, the landlord is required in California to pay the tenant’s relocation costs. The Ellis Act allows landlords to evict their tenants if they intend to take the building off the rental market or demolish it. Although the landlord is required to pay relocation fees to these tenants, the Act enables them to replace older rent-controlled buildings with new, uncontrolled apartments. Los Angeles has closed this loophole—and protected tenants—by applying rent control to any units that are built on the property within five years of demolishing an older, rent-controlled building.
For any tenant in a rent-controlled apartment, the landlord has fewer eviction options than with uncontrolled units. Rent control provides protection against no-fault evictions, or evictions when the tenant has not done anything wrong.
In a rent-controlled apartment, the tenant can be evicted for issues like non-payment of rent, violations of the lease or rental agreement, for subletting the unit to someone else, for refusing reasonable access to the landlord when repairs or maintenance are needed. In an uncontrolled unit, the tenant can be evicted at the will of the landlord, regardless of the tenant’s behavior.
Current Rent Control Activism in Southern California
Rent control laws generally provide protections in areas with low vacancy rates, where landlords could potentially push rental rates up because demand is so high.
Tenant advocates argue that if vacancies are at five percent or above, landlords are less likely to raise rents or neglect maintenance, because they need to attract the tenants who will rent the vacant units.
As a consequence of these alarming trends, larger cities in California tend to enact rent control legislation in situations where housing markets are tight and rents are rising. Rent control is local legislation rather than statewide, because the problem it seeks to solve is local in nature.
There are two paths to establishing rent control. It can be enacted as an ordinance, or city law, by a City Council, as the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance did. Or it can be proposed to voters as a ballot measure to create a charter amendment, or change to the city constitution, as Santa Monica’s rent ordinance did.
Many tenants wish to promote the introduction of rent control and begin attending City Council meetings in order to try and get rent control measures passed. These meetings typically feature an opportunity for constituents to speak, and this provides an opportunity to broach the subject of rent control.
Armed with statistics and information about rent control, the suggestion might carry due weight with the council as there are more tenants than landlords in any given city.
When tenants organize, the council is likely to consider raising the matter officially in the council meetings. An advocate may be able to convert other groups to the cause, such as the local Democratic Club, labor unions, firemen, teachers, business owners, senior groups, and some religious institutions and liberal organizations. Bring local news into the matter to motivate the council further. Furthermore, if a landlord attempts to evict for a tenant attempting to unionize they may be guilty of retaliation under Civil Code 1942.5.
The major challenge with a ballot measure is the fact that the people who stand to benefit from rent control—namely, tenants—are widely thought to be a disenfranchised demographic even though California is widely known as the most tenant friendly state.