Santa Ana moves forward on rent control, eviction protections

A mother and her child stand outside their apartment in Santa Ana.
A mother and her child stand outside their apartment in Santa Ana.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
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During a Santa Ana City Council meeting that began on Tuesday and stretched into the early morning hours, elected officials took a firm step toward curbing future rent hikes for many tenants and providing stricter eviction protections. Council members had the option to make the rent control and just-cause eviction measures effective immediately but fell shy of the five votes needed to adopt them as urgency ordinances.

Instead, a slim 4-3 majority decided to bring both proposals back for a second reading and vote, which is slated to occur after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pandemic-related statewide eviction moratorium is set to expire on Sept. 30.

“This isn’t a new issue,” said Mayor Vicente Sarmiento. “This isn’t something that was a result of the pandemic. This predates that.”


For decades, the city has seen a history of grassroots organizing surrounding renters’ rights, from a 1985 rent strike in several of its neighborhoods to failed bids by Tenants United Santa Ana to put rent control on the ballot twice in the past three years.

Tenants form the majority of the densely populated city, many of whom are rent burdened, meaning they dedicate at least 30% of their income to rent, according to a 2014 city of Santa Ana general plan.

The rent control ordinance considered by council members seeks to impose a 3% annual rent increase cap on apartment complexes and mobile home parks. In accordance with existing state laws, such caps are limited to apartment structures built before Feb. 1, 1995 and mobile home parks that began renting spaces before 1990.

A landlord may ask to be exempt from the cap if they can show that it’s preventing a reasonable return on their property; Santa Ana City Manager Kristine Ridge would have the authority to deny or approve such petitions.

The just-cause eviction ordinance would strengthen renters’ rights beyond the state’s Tenant Protection Act by drawing down the prior occupancy requirement from 12 months to just 30 days. It would also mandate that eviction notices be delivered in the same language as the lease was negotiated in.

Both measures appearing on the council agenda brought advocates, tenants and opponents out for a lengthy period of public comments.

Ahead of the meeting, the Apartment Assn. of Orange County put out a “red alert” in opposition to the measures. Chip Ahlswede, a representative of the association, approached the podium with a “no rent control” strikethrough sticker on his shirt.

“The proposal you have before you seeks to find a good common ground, a good solution for both parties,” Ahlswede said. “However, it was not done with the input of the industry. It is rushed through. The research does not exist behind it. We have an opportunity to come up with a solution by not passing here tonight.”

Opponents criticized an ad hoc committee comprised of three council members on the issues as “secretive,” though the city attorney assured that the process complied with the Brown Act. Others claimed that “loopholes” within the just-cause eviction ordinance would prevent the eviction of gang members.

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Sept. 21, 2021

Wearing a Tenants United Santa Ana shirt, Elsa Ayala, spoke in favor of rent control as an 18-year resident of the city.

“Regrettably, my husband suffered a stroke five years ago,” Ayala said in Spanish. “I’m the only one who works. I have two children, 18 and 15. If my rent is raised, I won’t be able to pay it. I’m going to have to take my children out of school to work. I don’t want to.”

The debate turned next to council after midnight.

“The struggles of Santa Ana renters are too big to continue to ignore,” Councilwoman Jessie Lopez said in favor of the measures. “Low wages and high rents are the clamps that squeeze the working class of its earnings.”

Councilman Phil Bacerra complained on more than one occasion about the meeting having carried on past midnight on such a critical issue and suggested it gave credence to those who criticized the council for attempting to ram rent control through.

“We’re not talking about, as we did during COVID, the city of Santa Ana invoking its own moratorium on evictions,” Bacerra added. “We’ve basically have said we’re going to dovetail off of that and pivot towards rent control. I think that also is very disingenuous.”

He seconded a motion made by Councilwoman Nelida Mendoza to direct city staff to further study the policy and added an amendment to hold stakeholder meetings as part of the process.

But a substitute motion by Councilman Johnathan Hernandez won a majority of votes.

Backed by the mayor, council members Lopez and Thai Viet Phan, it would also authorize the reallocation of up to $300,000 from the Revive Santa Ana Plan to develop an eviction defense fund. An Irvine-based consultant would be contracted in order to help the city administer, manage and implement the ordinances on a temporary basis.

Council members are expected to consider a second reading and vote on both ordinances during their Oct. 5 meeting.

If the ordinances pass, Santa Ana will become the only city in Orange County to adopt local rent control measures for tenants living in both apartments and mobile home parks.

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