F. Castro / SFVS

Protestors in Van Nuys and North Hollywood seek relief from escalating rents for apartments and homes.

Earlier this month Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 1482 into law, imposing rent control limits across California. But tenant activists are saying landlords are quickly raising rents ahead of the measure taking effect on Jan. 1, 2020. “It’s all coordinated. We started seeing those notices in August. It’s too widespread to be a coincidence,” says Dont Rhine of Los Angeles Tenant Union (LATU). “It’s retaliation against the tenants.”

The law caps annual rent increases to 5 percent, plus the local rate of inflation (about 8 percent total). The rules, however, will vary for cities that already have rent control laws. The measure will expire in 2030 (unless lawmakers vote to extend it).

But the practice of dramatically increasing rental prices has been growing in Los Angeles and surrounding areas, so much so that the LA City Council was asked to provide emergency legislation to halt the practice. On Tuesday, Oct. 15, the council instructed City Attorney Mike Feuer to draft an emergency ordinance to stop landlords from evicting tenants without sufficient cause, such as failure to pay rent, and for the council itself to draft an ordinance limiting rent increases for the rest of the year and block evictions for failure to pay rent if recent increases were above the coming state cap. The ordinances must still come before the council for a final vote. 

Rhine says 60-day notices informing tenants about rent hikes have accelerated recently and envisions that more will be sent this month.

Karla Rodriguez and tenants at the Woodman Park Apartments in Van Nuys received those notices the first week of October.

“They say they want to repair the building, they want to increase rents 40-60 percent,” Rodriguez said.

Tenants have until Dec. 7 to find new accommodations. They may return, but they must first post a $500 deposit and then pay the increased rents for the remodeled units.

For Teresa Ledezma, who has lived in the apartment complex for the past 18 years, those increases would mean more than $900 extra per month — from $1,583 to $2,495—simply impossible for her family to pay.

“My husband is the only one who works. He’s a painter,” says Ledezma. “Almost $1,000 is too much. We can’t pay it.”

And she’s worried about where she’ll find a place to go that is within her means.

“My daughter asks me if we’re going to be homeless,” she says, visibly shaken. “They want to kick us out.”

Rodriguez adds it seems that the building owners don’t want current tenants to stay, opting instead for new people who can pay more.

“We can’t sleep. We can’t be at peace at any one moment,” said Rodriguez, who is organizing a united front with her neighbors against the landlord.

She and several of her neighbors took part in a protest on Sunday, Oct. 13, organized by LATU at the North Hollywood field office of LA Councilmember Paul Krekorian, vice chair of the city’s Housing Committee.

Tenants of a North Hollywood apartment complex who have been on a rent strike for the past five months also joined in.

Sonia Lopez, who has lived in the complex on Gilmore Street for 10 years, is one of those tenants who stopped paying rent since June in opposition to the ongoing rent increases.

Lopez said her rent went up to $1,400 at the beginning of the year, then to $1,583, and in May she and her family were told the rent would increase again to $1,603. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Three increases in one year and last year we had one for $200, that was just too much,” Lopez said.

The case is still before a judge, while Lopez and at least a dozen other neighbors have been buying money orders for the rent amount prior to the latest hike. The rent money is placed in escrow until there’s a resolution.

“We’re not against paying. It’s just that what they want to charge is unfair,” she said.

LATU and other activists are pushing the city of Los Angeles to establish a retroactive ordinance protecting tenants from rent hikes in these last months of the year before the new law goes into effect.

That would only exacerbate the state’s housing crisis because developers won’t want to construct new apartment buildings, according to organizations that advocate for apartment owners.

“It is unfortunate that political expediency won over a comprehensive housing solution that will actually move the state closer to the Governor’s goal of creating 3.5 million new housing units,” California Rental Housing Association president Sid Lakireddy said in a statement, after Newsom signed the legislation.

The California Apartment Association, which opposes rent control, took a neutral position after securing a series of amendments to the legislation. But Tom Bannon, chief executive officer, said the law “may still have a chilling effect on investment and make Newsom’s housing production goals all the more challenging.” 

“There’s a cloud now over whether people will invest in rental housing,” Bannon said. “The only way you’re going to remove that cloud is if in fact California, the state Legislature and city councils make a decision that new housing is a priority. And currently, it’s not.”

Rhine, for one, doesn’t buy it.

“There’s a lot of money and all of it is going into real estate, buying and selling. And the rent just keeps going up,” he said.  

“(With this law) the rent increases will finally have a ceiling and the amount the owners can raise it will be regulated, but for most people, they still can’t pay the rents. We need to stop increases altogether.”