COVID-19 and the Coming Rent Control Initiative

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

A move to prevent evictions from rental apartment units during the coronavirus crisis could gather steam now that the governor has pledges from some of the biggest banks to give victims of the coronavirus a reprieve on mortgage payments. Landlords, with an eye on a coming rent control ballot measure, would find it in their long-term interests to avoid evictions of tenants and implement other protective measures for those affected by the economic consequences of the virus. 

While the election is months away, the rent control measure has qualified for the ballot and any missteps by landlords during a time of the current national emergency surely would become campaign fodder in the Fall. 

A rent control initiative, Proposition 10, was defeated handily two years ago. The newly qualified initiative that would override current state law and give local governments more power to implement rent control, is sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the same group that was behind Proposition 10. 

Reasons for defeating the former initiative and the new version are still valid. Basically, it boils down to rent control would freeze construction of housing units. A greater housing supply would limit rents. 

But if pictures are captured now of landlords evicting tenants who through no fault of their own lost jobs and cannot pay the rent, those pictures will be displayed prominently in the Fall campaign. 

Landlords have financial obligations of their own and they are counting on rents to pay for needed services and repairs to their property or to take care of their own needs from groceries to mortgage payments. 

Yet, the California Apartment Association understands the long-term consequences of how actions taken today could well play into the politics of tomorrow. The organization offered advice to members that includes: freezing rents, halting evictions and waiving late fees. 

The government subsidies should help some of the small business landlords; and with luck and Californians following medical advice guidelines, the virus situation will dissipate, and lost payments will be made up. 

While following the CAA recommendations is a threat to many people who are just trying to conduct a fair business, they are being reminded that another big threat is coming at them in November. This might fall under the old formula that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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