In Prop. 10 fight, some tenants caught in the crossfire

Condos in San Francisco, which has a local rent control ordinance. (Photo: Stephen VanHorn, via Shutterstock)

When Proposition 10, a rent control initiative, made it on the Nov. 6 ballot, backers and foes offered different apocalyptic claims.

Supporters of Proposition 10, which would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a 1995 law cracking down on rent control, said the measure is vitally needed in a state crippled by a housing crisis, where skyrocketing rents are driving the middle class and working poor out of the state or onto the street. Proposition 10 allows cities and counties to put into effect new rent control measures or expand existing ones.

Opponents of Proposition 10 say that that if the measure passes, widespread rent control regulations will cause property values to crater and rents to lock in for years at the current levels. The California Apartment Association contends that local governments “could once again adopt extreme forms of rent control, including the imposition of rent caps on new apartments and single-family homes.”

But what neither side predicted is that some California tenants faced a nightmare scenario before a single vote was cast.

Rent was being increased at one building, the manager said, because “we’re facing rent control and more importantly, the likelihood of controls on increasing rent after vacancies.”

Since August, a number of renters throughout the state, including Concord, North Hollywood, Modesto and National City, were hit with evictions and rent increases by landlords and property managers who cited the “impending” passage of Proposition 10 and the repeal of Costa-Hawkins as the reason for their action.

On Aug. 29, residents of Concord’s Parkside Garden apartment complex received a 60-day eviction notice from PTLA Real Estate Group. The notice stated that the evictions stemmed from PTLA’s intention to renovate the apartments.

However, official correspondence between Andrea Ouse, head of Concord’s Community and Economic Development department, and Concord city manager Valerie Barone suggests otherwise.

Reporting on a lengthy meeting with PTLA president Peter Wilson, Ouse wrote that PTLA issued “60-day notices of ‘non-renewal of their month-to-month’ to all but a few of the 24 units at the end of August” because PTLA “wanted to beat the Costa-Hawkins repeal, which is the only reason they issued all of the units the notice, almost immediately on the close of escrow.”

A Concord spokesperson confirmed the contents of the correspondence.

In August, tenant Jacob Swanson received a letter from LFM Management stating that rent on his North Hollywood apartment would be increased by 8 percent. Swanson, who has lived in his apartment for a decade, said the yearly rent increase typically was 3 percent to 5 percent.

The landlord promised to reconsider the rent hike if Proposition 10 failed, and included a packet of No on 10 information with the rent hike letter.

When Swanson asked why the higher-than-usual rent hike, LFM replied in an email on Aug. 25 that the “building is not currently rent controlled (built late 80s), but with the upcoming election, we’re facing rent control and more importantly, the likelihood of controls on increasing rent after vacancies.”

On Aug. 24, Rampart Property Management of Los Angeles sent a letter to its tenants stating that rents would be increased in preparation of the passage of Prop. 10.

The company told its tenants that Proposition 10 “will grant cities in California the ability to impose rent control on cities and does away with the Costa-Hawkins Act imposing rent controls on existing non-rent control properties. Your property is not rent controlled, but may become rent controlled as early as Nov. 6, 2018. What this means is that although you don’t want higher rent and we did not plan on charging you higher rent, we may lose our ability to raise rents in the future as this becomes another government control on rents. Therefore, in preparation for the passage of this ballot initiative we must pass along a rent increase today.”

Rampart promised to reconsider the rent hikes if Proposition 10 did not pass. Rampart describes itself as a midsized management company that represents hundreds of apartment owners and real-estate investors.

On Sept. 22, Trinidad Ruiz, a tenant in L.A.’s Filipinotown, received a letter from his landlord.

“You may be aware of Proposition 10 that will be on the ballot this November. … If passed, I may potentially have difficulty meeting the high long-term costs associated with the building and it’s [sic] maintenance. So as a result, I will unfortunately raise rents again.”

Ruiz’s landlord promised to reconsider the rent hike if Proposition 10 failed, and included a packet of No on 10 information with the rent hike letter. Ruiz, a tenants’ rights advocate, said that his landlord is a fair person, and that building tenants are currently negotiating with the landlord over the proposed rent hike.

A statewide tenants’ rights organization says it started seeing stories of Proposition 10 related to evictions and rent hikes in August.

In the last few weeks, Capitol Weekly contacted dozens of tenants’ rights groups, poverty-rights advocates, seniors’ groups, attorneys and others who work with renters on issues of evictions and unfair rent increases. A few spoke on the record, but most spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation by their landlord.

Nearly every advocate or attorney that we spoke to reported that since August they’ve experienced a surge in communication from tenants about Proposition 10-related evictions and rent hikes.

“In the last four weeks, at least 20 people have called us about their rents increasing 50 percent—even doubled—because landlords were concerned about Prop. 10,” said Eric Castelblanco, a tenant-rights attorney in Studio City.

Attorney Elena Popp with the Eviction Defense Network said that complaints to their clinics about rent increases and evictions have nearly doubled in “the last couple months.” Her group of lawyers provides legal services to tenants facing eviction.

Shanti Singh, of Tenants Together, a statewide tenants’ rights organization, says that they started seeing stories of Proposition 10 related to evictions and rent hikes in August.

A No on 10 spokesman said voter intimidation is not happening and that there is no coordinated campaign to have landlords pressure their tenants.

The timing of landlords and management agencies using the fear of Proposition 10’s passage to evict tenants and raise rents dovetails with the No on 10 campaign’s media blitz, while raising backers’ suspicions of a coordinated effort to block the measure.

The California Apartment Association, the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles and the San Mateo County Association of Realtors, among other groups, declined to discuss the issue with Capitol Weekly.

Through Sept. 20, the No on 10 committee had spent $4.1 million on media, most of it on television advertising, according to financial disclosure records filed with the state’s elections officer.

The latest campaign disclosure reports through Oct. 24 show No on 10 has raised about $69 million, with most of the money coming from parties connected to real estate and development.

During the time period of July 25 to Sept. 20 the Yes on 10 campaign had spent $407,000 on media, all but $3,500 on “campaign literature.” On Sept. 21, however, Yes on 10 wrote a $8.1 million check to consultant Joe Trippi for “TV or cable airtime and production costs.”

According to the latest financial disclosure records, Yes on 10 has received $24.9 million in campaign contributions. Of that amount, about $23 million has been contributed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation run by Michael Weinstein.

Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the No on 10 campaign, said voter intimidation is not happening and that there is no coordinated campaign by Proposition 10’s main opponents to have landlords pressure their tenants.

Maviglio rejected the notion that there was a concerted effort by the campaign and the apartment managers and landlords associations to threaten tenants.

“There is no orchestrated campaign here,” he told Capitol Weekly. “Some landlords are communicating about the consequence of Proposition 10. It’s called free speech,” he said.

But Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, along with the Eviction Defense Network’s Elena Popp, contend that the Rampart and Ruiz letters—in which the landlords state that they will reconsider rent increases if Proposition 10 does not pass—are proof of foul play.

“We see it as voter intimidation and extortion. Clearly it is an attempt by [apartment] managers to get these tenants to vote against Prop. 10 and against their own interests,” Gross told KCRW in an interview.

Ed’s Note: Updates donations to Yes on 10 and No on 10 campaigns to reflect latest state disclosure reports, 25th-27th grafs. 

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