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Assembly OKs Bill to Weaken Local Rent Control Laws

Times Staff Writer

A controversial measure that sponsors say would increase the supply of affordable rental housing by weakening local rent controls was approved by the Assembly on Monday and sent to the Senate, where a similar proposal died last year.

The bill, supported by the Deukmejian Administration, would establish the first statewide guidelines for rent controls. It was approved by a vote of 44-33 that crossed party lines.

Under the proposal’s key feature, landlords would be allowed to raise rents without limit when an apartment became vacant for any reason except eviction.

The bill, by Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno), also would exempt new housing construction, including mobile home parks, and single-family homes from local rent controls.

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Los Angeles and most of the other 13 California cities that now have rent control ordinances already exempt new construction and single-family residences.

Mobile Home Parks

Another 40 or so cities and counties fix rents for space in mobile home parks. The Assembly last week voted to exclude new mobile home parks from the bill.

But Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), a rent control supporter, has said that he would oppose the bill if mobile homes are treated differently from other housing.

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Roberti strongly opposed last year’s version of the bill, which contained the same mobile home park provision. The measure died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Besides the Deukmejian Administration, the Costa bill was backed by the California Assn. of Realtors, California Apartment Assn. and the California Building Industry Assn. It was opposed by the city of Los Angeles, other cities and counties and tenant groups.

Proponents argue that the proposal would trigger the construction of more rental housing in the state. Opponents maintain that the rent control issue should be left up to local government.

In arguing for his bill during floor debate, Costa contended that “fear and uncertainty over the scope of rent control is the major reason why many lenders will not finance the construction of rental units in California.”

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Moreover, he noted that only a few communities with rent control, notably Santa Monica and Berkeley, prohibit rents from being raised when a unit is vacated.

Reasonable or Radical

He said this policy “separates reasonable rent control from radical rent control,” such as in Santa Monica and Berkeley.

Opposing the measure, Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) said the vacancy provision was “too extreme.”

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He predicted that the bill would lead to “skyrocketing rents for thousands of people. It will close off the possibility of affordable housing for renters. . . . And it will destroy the right of cities to (adopt) local versions of rent control.”

Assemblyman Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Assembly Housing Committee, also appealed for rejection of the bill, citing the home-rule issue. “After all, what is more local than the roof over your head?” Davis asked.

Norman Boyer, Los Angeles’ chief lobbyist in Sacramento, said in an interview that the city opposed the bill because “we do not want to see the state imposing standards in an area that we think is a local issue.”


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