Proposed Rent Control Ordinance Could Violate Long Beach Charter, City Says

Housing Long Beach Executive Director Josh Butler submitting paperwork to the city clerk’s office last November for a proposed rent control ordinance. File photo by Stephanie Rivera.

The rent control ballot initiative that is currently being circulated for signatures in Long Beach could violate the city’s charter, according to two memos released last month by the city manager’s office.

In an addendum to a letter sent to the city council on April 19, the city manager’s office identified six instances in which it believes the proposed ordinance would violate the city’s charter. It stated that provisions that would allow for the rental housing board—an entity that would be created under the ordinance which would be funded through fees assessed to landlords and would set maximum rents—to act independent of the city council, city manager’s office as well as allowing it to seek counsel outside the city attorney’s office, all violate the city’s charter.

The addendum reiterated a point made in the previous memo to council that if the proposed ordinance were to pass it would be likely that litigation would follow to “address these significant inconsistencies, and possibly others”.

Opponents of the ballot measure seized on the report, pointing to the potential for taxpayer money to fund litigation brought against the city if the measure were to make it onto the November ballot and pass.

“Special interest groups like Housing Long Beach want to pass this dangerous, reckless ballot initiative at any cost,” said Mike Murchison, a lobbyist and spokesman for Long Beach Residents for Fair Housing, a group opposed to rent control. “Taxpayers will be on the hook for massive legal bills if rent control becomes law, and those bills will be paid out of the city’s general fund. That’s money that could be used for police, fire trucks, street and pothole repairs, even more affordable housing. This politically driven effort only benefits the special interests at the expense of renters, housing providers, taxpayers, and city-funded services.”

While the city pointed out that the proposed ordinance could violate the city’s charter, answers to dozens of questions submitted by the council in a mid-March meeting seemed to suggest that it may be on sound ground with other statutes.

Long Beach Begins Addressing Potential Future as a Rent Controlled City

City staff answers to council member’s questions regarding the legality of the proposed ordinance showed only the six inconsistencies with the city charter. It noted that while it had yet to undertake a deep examination of state and federal laws it had no reason to believe that the ordinance violated them.

One major state law it would have to contend with is the Costa-Hawkins Act which limits municipalities’ ability to institute rent control and stipulates the buildings that can fall under rent control. Generally, Costa-Hawkins bans rent control on buildings constructed after 1995 or anything built after the year a local ordinance was enacted. However, Costa-Hawkins is also the subject of a statewide ballot initiative as signatures are being gathered in an attempt to repeal it.

Josh Butler, executive director of Housing Long Beach, said that city hall is “waging a war on renters” instead of finding a way to assist the majority of the city—approximately 60 percent of the city rents—some of whom have been experiencing steep rental increases in the months since the rent control ballot initiative was certified by the city clerk.

He referenced an email circulated by a separate group opposing the rent control effort stating that it would pursue litigation against the city and that he hopes once the initiative is passed the city will defend it.

“I hope that organization is saving up for their legal fund, because the Rent Control Now coalition expects the City Attorney to defend the will of the people to the best of his ability. The ordinance is perfectly defendable.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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