Pasadena residents to vote on rent control in November

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An apartment building in LA County. Image: Hit LA

Pasadena residents will vote in November on whether to pass rent control and other tenant protections, after a broad coalition of Pasadena tenants, unions and housing activists garnered enough signatures to place the question on the ballot. If adopted, the Pasadena Fair and Equitable Housing Charter Amendment expand existing tenant protections, such as relocation assistance, and establish rent control, broader eviction protections, a rent registry and an independent rent commission.

The authors of the ballot measure, all of whom are affiliated with local tenant unions, drafted protections inspired by the lived experiences of Pasadeans at risk of losing their homes, according to Jane Panangaden, a member of the Pasadena for Rent Control steering committee. Other local jurisdictions, including Inglewood and Culver City, have enacted rent control measures in recent years.

Charter amendment could limit rent increases for thousands of Pasadenans

Renters across the country are facing steep rent increases, and Pasadena is no exception. More than half of tenant households in the city (54%) are burdened with rent, ie they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. “Being in this situation is a huge risk factor for losing your home, because it does not allow people to accumulate savings. Then, if they encounter an emergency medical situation or job loss, it immediately prevents them from paying their rent,” Panangaden said.

The ballot measure limits annual rent increases to three-quarters the rate of inflation for units built before 1995. While the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act exempts newer units from rent control orders, Pasadena for Rent Control estimates that two-thirds of the city’s rental properties will be affected by this measure. A landlord could apply to the newly created housing commission for a one-time rent increase if they can prove that their operating expenses have increased. The measure places no restrictions on setting the initial rent for new tenants, another Costa-Hawkins requirement.

Proponents argue that the charter amendment would create stability for tenants by allowing them to plan rent increases, as well as prevent further attrition of black and brown families in Pasadena. Pasadena City Council member Jess Rivas, who represents a predominantly Latino neighborhood where 74% of housing is rented, supports the amendment of the charter. Landlords in Pasadena have used rent increases as de facto evictions, Rivas said, displacing tenants from their communities.

“Especially in the last 20 years, I think there’s been a huge exodus of people of color from the city,” Panangaden said. “People have seen displacement happening in the very recent past and so they are really on board. All you have to tell them is “rent control“.

Few circumstances currently qualify tenants for relocation assistance

Expanding beyond current state law, the charter amendment would allow only specific no-fault evictions and evictions for fault, such as breach of lease or non-payment of rent. Pasadena landlords who evict in violation of the charter amendment could face fines, misdemeanor charges and civil lawsuits from wrongfully evicted tenants, the city attorney or the proposed housing commission.

Additionally, the charter change would require landlords to provide tenants with moving assistance for specific no-fault evictions or offer them comparable vacant accommodation at the same or lower rent. Under current state law, AB1482 (California Tenant Protection Act of 2019), only a very limited set of trigger conditions exist for relocation assistance, Panangaden explained. “It’s pretty easy for owners to avoid triggering it.”

Relocation assistance under the ballot measure would include reimbursing tenants in the weeks before they leave their accommodation for all relocation expenses, including security deposits, utility connection fees and other moving expenses.

Renters can use the public rental registry to navigate the Pasadena housing market

Detailed information on the occupancy history, asking rents and ownership of rental housing in the city is currently difficult to find, especially for tenants whose housing is owned by corporations.

If the charter amendment is approved by voters, the housing authority must set up and make available an online rental registry within one year. Owners of rental units in the city should register their properties with the Proposed Rental Board, which will manage and update the online portal with the information provided.

The portal will contain data about each rental property, including addresses, unit numbers and sizes, amenities, rental history charged to tenants, and contact information for a property owner or representative. Not only would tenants be able to check that a place is legal before signing a lease, but they could also see if the landlord has a history of rent increases.

“People need to enter leases with their eyes open,” Panangaden said. “Right now, landlords do background checks on tenants, but tenants don’t have the option of knowing if the landlord has a history of not maintaining the unit, livability issues, court code or enforcement issues.”

According to Ryan Bell, finance coordinator for Pasadena for Rent Control, the charter amendment was designed to even out power dynamics between landlord and tenant, protect marginalized communities and guide the city’s housing policy.

“I really think [the amendment] will maintain diversity. This will stabilize our communities, especially our communities of color, who are just beleaguered by rent increases and harassment, and the Latino community, especially undocumented families, who are targets of abuse,” Bell said.

By 2023 protections for tenants could be enforced by majority tenant council

An 11-member independent rental commission would be created under the charter amendment to implement and enforce the law. Made up of seven tenant members and four members at large, all positions on the tenancy council will be salaried and will have a maximum term of four years.

“This is probably the part of the amendment that we discussed the most. And for the longest drafting period, we really wanted to have a council that wasn’t just made up of friends of city council members,” Panangaden said. “I mean, like 60% of the households in our city [are]tenants, but we don’t have tenants on the city council.

If the charter amendment is approved by voters in November, the Pasadena City Council will issue a call for nominations within 30 days and publicly appoint representatives to the housing commission within four months.

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