Oakland Calls for Repeal of State Law Restricting Renter Protections


The Oakland City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to support a resolution urging state lawmakers and Governor Jerry Brown to repeal or modernize the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prohibits rent protections for housing built in the past 30 years. 


“The Costa-Hawkins law has been a factor in rent increases dramatically beyond the pace of inflation,” said City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who co-sponsored the resolution with Councilmember Dan Kalb. “The reality is that Costa-Hawkins has resulted in ‘unwarranted’ rent increases in unprotected rental units, exacerbating not only Oakland’s housing crisis but regionally as well.”


Adopted by the California State Legislature in 1995, Costa-Hawkins allows unlimited increases of rents and exempts certain units from rent control for housing constructed after 1983.


After being signed into law, the housing crises worsened in cities like Oakland and San Francisco, and problems caused by Costa-Hawkins began to receive more attention.


In 2013, advocates and legislators came close to changing the law, which would have dramatically reduced Costa-Hawkins’ restrictions on renter protection.


However, Governor Brown– whose Oakland property went up for sale this year at $2,595,000–ultimately vetoed the legislation.


Kaplan and Kalb’s recommendation urges the state to remove the roadblock to many efforts and ordinances that could better protect renters and prevent displacement.


“Repealing or at least substantially modernizing the Costa-Hawkins law will allow local governments to stabilize rents and an important tool to reduce displacement of families and communities,” said Kaplan.


In addition, Kaplan stated that the original exemption made for single-family homes was likely done in an attempt to exempt people who own only one home from rent control laws.


In today’s housing climate, however, where major investment firms are buying up large numbers of houses, the councilmember said, “It makes no sense to treat those large landlords, often multi-national corporations, as exempt from the laws that would apply if they rented out apartments.”


Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney expressed hesitancy at the meeting cautioning of a “slippery slope” by removing Costa-Hawkins, but agreed it is time for legislators to reevaluate the law, which she said needs to be “modernized to address the current housing conditions.”


“In this unprecedented housing crisis, it is important that we explore all viable options to preserve affordability, prevent displacement, and make it easier for working people to live in our community,” Kaplan said.


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