Prop. 21: Everything you need to know about rent control measure

Proposition 21 would allow cities and counties to pass their own expanded rules on rent control.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Proposition 21 would expand the ability for cities and counties to limit rent increases across California.

Here’s a rundown of the issue:

The details

Under Proposition 21, cities and counties would be allowed to mandate strict rent controls on apartments built before 2006, on some single-family home and condominium rentals and when new tenants move in — all of which are currently prohibited under state law.

By itself, the initiative would not create any new rent controls but would allow cities and counties to pass their own expanded rules. Interest in doing so is expected to be strong in high-cost, liberal areas of the state, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. Between the two cities, roughly 200,000 apartments would be newly eligible for rent controls should Proposition 21 pass.

The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation nonprofit is funding the campaign for Proposition 21 and was behind a similar rent control initiative in 2018 that failed.


The state of play

Californians have continually cited the high cost of housing and homelessness as among the state’s most pressing problems, and Proposition 21 supporters have argued that slowing rent increases will help people stay in their homes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the state’s housing affordability challenges worse, with millions at risk of eviction due to the economic downturn, according to some estimates. Proposition 21 would not offer direct relief for those unable to pay their rent now; rather, it would allow for more limits on future rent hikes.

Like the rent control initiative in 2018, fundraising for Proposition 21 has topped $100 million. This year’s initiative is one of the most expensive in California history, with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation contributing more than $40 million toward its passage. Opponents, including large landlords Essex Property Trust, Equity Residential and AvalonBay Communities, are outspending supporters more than 2-to-1.

Critics of Proposition 21 argue that the initiative would hurt housing affordability in the long term by limiting the supply of apartments. They also point to a new statewide cap on large rent increases, which went into effect at the beginning of 2020, that limits annual rent hikes to 5% plus inflation for most rental housing older than 15 years.

Nearly 60% of voters were against the rent control initiative in 2018 and public polls are showing a similarly uphill battle for supporters this time.

Reading list

How California’s Prop. 21 is different from the rent control initiative two years ago

Prop. 21: Does expanding rent control make sense in a COVID recession?

‘Gimme Shelter’: What you need to know about Proposition 21, the rent control ballot initiative

Billions have been spent on California’s ballot measure battles. But this year is unlike any other

Eviction court is back. Financially struggling tenants remain protected, for now

California will limit rent increases under bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom