Debating Costa-Hawkins: Should we strengthen or shrink rent control laws?

Feb 27, 2017

In order to stem the tide of displacement in places like the Bay Area, some advocates want to strengthen tenant protections at the state level. One way to do that would be to modify or repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.

What that law does is rein in rent control. Here’s how: rent control limits how much property owners can raise rents every year. In California, because of Costa-Hawkins, those limits are lifted when a new tenant moves in. In that moment, rent can go up any amount—it’s called “vacancy de-control”. Then the rent control kicks back in, and yearly increases are controlled from that new rent price.

As some California cities adopt rent control for the first time, the ins and outs of rental regulation — including Costa-Hawkins — are all back up for debate.

KALW’s Hana Baba spoke to two people on either side of the debate. Jay Kelekian, Director of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program, supports repealing Costa Hawkins. Krista Gulbransen, director of the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition does not.

GULBRANSEN: The philosophical argument is whose rights are more valuable? There's the right of housing and there's the right of ownership of property and at the end of the day a lot of the proponents on the rent control side believe that the right to housing supersedes the right to private ownership.

Just over a week ago, state legislators from San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Monica proposed a bill that would repeal Costa-Hawkins, and tighten rent control regulations for property owners. The bill’s fate will be decided within the next two years.

This story is part of KALW's series about preserving the Bay Area's affordable housing. Much of the housing debate focuses on new developments. But what can be done to help people who already live here? The series explores some possible answers.