Rent gouging is putting families at risk and reshaping our communities.
Imagine waking up one day and finding that your rent is going to double. What would you do? Could you afford twice as much for rent with only 1 month to plan? For many families this nightmare is a reality.
Many buildings in Los Angeles are protected from this by our Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). Passed in 1978, the RSO caps yearly rent increases to about 3% a year and protects renters from no-cause evictions. These protections allowed many tenants to stay in their homes despite housing prices rising around them. But in 1996 the California legislature passed a law called Costa-Hawkins.
Costa-Hawkins was pushed through the Assembly and Senate by developers, and even then it barely won a majority. Costa-Hawkins stopped any city in California from passing new rent control laws. It also froze any existing rent control laws at the date it was first passed. That means that only apartment buildings built before 1978 in Los Angeles are protected. To make things even harder on working families, Costa-Hawkins outlawed rent control on any single family homes.
For 22 years this law went unchallenged. That is, until Proposition 10 was put on the ballot to repeal Costa-Hawkins. If passed it would have allowed cities to pass new renter protections and returned local control to the people most effected. Unfortunately, it did not win. Los Angeles and San Francisco both voted in favor of Prop 10, because tenants knew how much it would help.
Since then we have seen landlords across the city using massive rent increases to push out tenants they don’t want. There’s a land rush in LA and landlords want to clear out working families to make way for wealthier tenants.
In 2018 the Burlington tenants went on the largest rent strike in LA history. The strike started when they were suddenly hit with increases that nearly doubled their rent. Working families and seniors on fixed incomes were faced with a sudden crisis. Fight the landlords to save their homes or try to find a new place to live immediately.
With the help of the Los Angeles Tenants Union and the Eviction Defense Network they formed Burlington Unidos. Even by pulling together as a community they weren’t able to save every home. Each unit had to go through a separate eviction proceeding, most of the tenants prevailed but some did not. After 6 months on rent strike the landlords canceled the rent increases and agreed to negotiate.
This rent increase was defeated, but not without cost. Months of worry and thousands of dollars were spent to fight this greed.
In Chinatown, families at the Hillside Villa apartments are looking at the end of their affordable housing covenant. These covenants last for 30 years, guaranteeing affordable rents and protections. In exchange for keeping rents low, the landlord is offered tax incentives. But even these incentives haven’t kept the landlord honest.
While the building continues to degrade, wealthier renters have been moved in at market rate, but the tax incentives are still claimed. Some of these families were displaced from downtown to make way for the Staples Center. Having survived one forced eviction, they are fearful of losing another home.
Pleas to the city for protection have gone unheeded, but by working with the Los Angeles Tenants Union they have won some legal victories. These wins are tenuous, the landlord doesn’t have to sign a new housing covenant. But these wins have only come through organizing and building community.
It’s amazing that these tenants and organizers have had the courage to organize. That when faced with displacement they fought for their homes and won. But it shouldn’t be this way.
California can stop this from ever happening again if the Assembly and Senate pass AB 1482. Authored by Assemblyman David, AB 1482 steps in where Proposition 10 couldn’t. It caps yearly rent increases to 5% plus the increase in cost of living. In most cases that would mean inflation.
This would mean that tenants could still see increases as high as 8%, based on current inflation. But that is far more manageable than 50% or 100% increases. Combined with other bills before the state legislature this year there is hope for tenants. Now we need to hold our Assembly Members and State Senators accountable.
You can take action now!
Call your representatives, tell them you support tenants, and that they must vote Yes on AB 1482.
Tenants work hard to pay the rent, but landlord greed threatens their homes. We have to stand with tenants and make housing a human right.
California tenants need the right to organize.
Our housing crisis is an eviction crisis. Tenants are not only facing steep costs to move into a new home. They are also facing threats from massive rent increases, Ellis act evictions, and short term rental schemes. In short, tenants are under siege by the forces of capital.
“You are putting humans out on the street with nowhere to go.” – Robert Evans, Expo Tenant
Tenants work hard to pay the rent, working two or even three jobs. But landlords can evict tenants for no reason at all, putting families on the street. A landlord with enough money to own an apartment building has enough money to afford a lawyer. Working tenants don’t have the money to afford an expensive trial.
Too often this is a lonely fight. Each tenant is trying to protect their home by themselves. It’s scary facing an uphill battle that may cost you your home.
These numbers don’t even count the people who choose to move because their stagnant wages make staying unaffordable. Families are moving out of LA in record numbers because they can’t raise their children in a city where costs rise while workers earn less.
Eviction and displacement stories are too common.
The Ellison is a rent controlled building in Venice. Since it first opened it has provided affordable housing for people from all walks of life: teachers, nurses, and artists. It was a quintessentially Venice place to live. That is until Lance Robbins bought the property.
Robbins is probably one of LA’s worst landlords. He’s been sued by the city many times for failing to maintain his buildings and has been called a slumlord by at least one judge.
“If you are wondering why the rental housing market in a place like Venice Beach is so tight, look no further than your nearest laptop. Fire it up and find dozens of websites advertising hotels and houses ‘just steps from the sand.'” – Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times
The demand for hotel rooms in Venice climbs every year. Robbins and his management company can charge hundreds of dollars a night, pocketing obscene profits. Instead of 57 units of affordable housing, The Ellison is now home to only a handful of residents. The rest of the units are now hotel rooms, the courtyard is a de facto lobby, and weekly public events bring party goers enticed with free wine tastings.
Most of the long term tenants chose to leave on their own. Why would you continue to pay rent to live in poor conditions? Years of neglect left the elevator broken, walkways unusable, and ceilings deteriorating. No matter how much they asked for repairs, building management did nothing. Faced with a dilapidated building and a hostile landlord it seemed like the only choice.
Others decided to stay and fight for their homes. But it has been a very long road. Despite years of complaints, lawsuits, and orders from the city to stop; Robbins has continued his quest to pocket as much money as possible at the expense of tenants’ health and wellbeing.
The tenants that stayed have only been able to because they organized, and even then it has taken an incredible amount of courage. They still pay the rent on time every month. They help each other navigate the broken building to deliver groceries and make doctor’s appointments. It looks like the city might finally bring them some relief, but it has taken far too long.
They are not alone, demand for new expensive housing makes tenants across the city targets.
Along the Expo Line corridor rent prices have spiked and longtime residents have been forced out. 7 buildings adjacent to the University of Southern California were sold to Chung Suk Kim and Hae Jung Kim in 2018. Instead of meeting their tenants, they immediately posted eviction notices.
“They are, in short, a developer’s dream come true: the perfect land grab in the never-ending game of speculative development.” – Jacob Woocher, KNOCK.LA
It didn’t matter that these tenants were up to date on the rent or had raised their families there, it only mattered that that landlords wanted to turn the biggest profit they could. LA’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance didn’t cover the buildings, so the tenants had no legal protections from eviction.
They organized and fought, but in the end they lost. 80 people lost their homes without protection under the law. Now those units rent for $3,000 a month.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Senator Elena Durazo has introduced Senate Bill 529 (SB 529) that will give tenants the right to organize tenant associations, withhold rent for poor conditions, and protect them from retaliation. This is a complex crisis and it requires a complete solution.
Right now, SB 529 is being debated in the California Senate and it is target number 1 for landlords and developers. The forces of capital are fighting as hard as their money can to stop tenants from organizing and gaining legal protections.
Housing is seen as a way for landlords to earn income, not as a place for people to live. We need to change this, we need to make housing a human right.
We’re committed to seeing these protections enshrined in law. You can make sure that happens.