By David Wagner
In a heated committee meeting on Wednesday, Los Angeles city councilmembers struck down a proposal for a six-month extension on a pandemic-era ban on rent hikes that has covered most L.A. apartments for the past three-and-a-half years.
Instead, the council’s housing committee voted to advance a plan that would lower allowable rent increases scheduled for Feb. 1 from 7% to 4%. A rule that allows an additional 2% for landlords who cover gas and electric costs will remain, bringing the highest allowed increase to 6% in some cases.
That plan will now advance to the full city council for a final vote.
Where the idea for a six-month delay came from
The six-month extension was proposed last week by councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez. He said delaying the return of annual increases in L.A.’s rent-controlled apartments from Feb. 1 to Aug. 1 would give councilmembers more time to study how to craft rent control limits moving forward. A number of cities in the L.A. area with rent control now limit increases to 3% or less.
Soto-Martinez said the looming increase of 7% (plus the additional 2% for landlords who cover utility costs) would be “catastrophic” for L.A.’s housing and homelessness crisis. But councilmember Nithya Raman, chair of the council’s housing and homelessness committee, said the six-month delay did not have enough support to advance.
A ‘compromise’ plan emerged
During Wednesday’s committee meeting, councilmember Bob Blumenfield proposed an alternate plan he viewed as a compromise. His proposal keeps the Feb. 1 date in place, but with smaller allowable increases based on more recent — and lower — inflation data.
“I looked at that as both being more up to date, and frankly, a reasonable compromise,” Blumenfield told LAist, in an interview after the committee passed the compromise. He said the 4% limit on allowable rent hikes come Feb. 1 is a plan “nobody will be thrilled with, but sometimes that’s a sign of good compromise.”
Heated comments on a high-stakes issue
The decision followed an hour of raucous public comment in which landlords and tenants traded cheers and taunts over a highly contentious issue in a high-cost city.
Landlords said the city’s rent freeze has hurt their ability to keep up with rising maintenance and insurance costs. Tenants said most L.A. renters already pay more than what’s considered affordable by federal standards, and increases of up to 9% would only worsen the city’s homelessness crisis .
The rent freeze and the city’s limits on annual increases only apply to rent-controlled housing, generally meaning any apartment built before 1978. Because so much of L.A.’s housing stock is older, the city’s rent control ordinance covers almost three-quarters of all L.A. apartments.
Where the proposal goes from here
Blumenfield’s proposal passed on a 3-2 vote. Raman and councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson joined Blumenfeld in voting to lower the Feb. 1 cap on rent increases to 4%. Citing concern for small landlords, councilmembers John Lee and Monica Rodriguez voted against lowering the rent caps.
The plan could be altered again before a final vote in the full city council, where the details could be altered again.