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Pasadena Residents Will Vote on Rent Control This November

The measure contains a broad set of tenant protections that could drastically change the experience of renting in Pasadena.

A yellow and white apartment building in Los Angeles County
An apartment building in LA County. Image: Knock LA

Residents of Pasadena will vote this November on whether to enact rent control and other tenant protections, after a broad coalition of Pasadena tenants, unions, and housing activists collected enough signatures to place the issue on the ballot. If passed, the Pasadena Fair and Equitable Housing Charter Amendment would expand existing tenant protections, such as relocation assistance, as well as establish rent control, broader eviction protections, a rental registry, and an independent rental board. 

The authors of the ballot measure, all of whom are affiliated with local tenants unions, drafted protections inspired by the lived experiences of Pasadenans at risk of losing their housing, according to Jane Panangaden, a steering committee member of Pasadena for Rent Control. Other local jurisdictions, including Inglewood and Culver City, have passed rent control measures in recent years.

Charter Amendment Could Cap Rent Increases for Thousands of Pasadenans

Tenants across the country are facing sharp increases in rent, and Pasadena is no exception. More than half of tenant households in the city (54%) are rent-burdened, which is defined as putting more than 30% of income toward rent. “Being in that situation is a huge risk factor for losing your housing because it doesn’t allow people to accrue any savings. Then, if they experience any kind of emergency medical situation or job loss, it leads to them immediately not being able to pay rent,” Panangaden said.

The ballot measure limits yearly rent increases to three-fourths of the inflation rate for units built before 1995. While the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act exempts newer units from rent control ordinances, Pasadena for Rent Control estimates that two-thirds of the city’s rental properties will be covered by this measure. A landlord could petition the newly created rental board for a one-time rent increase if they can prove that their operating expenses have increased. The measure places no restrictions on setting initial rent for new tenants, another requirement of Costa-Hawkins.

Proponents argue that the charter amendment would create stability for tenants by allowing them to plan for rent increases, as well as prevent further attrition of Black and brown families from Pasadena. Pasadena City Councilmember Jess Rivas, who represents a predominantly Latine district where 74% of housing units are rented, supports the charter amendment. Landlords in Pasadena have used rent increases as de facto evictions, Rivas explained, displacing tenants from their communities.

“Especially in the last 20 years, I think there’s been a huge outflow of people of color from the city,” Panangaden said. “People have seen the displacement happening in the very recent past and so they’re just really on board. All you have to say to them is ‘rent control.’”

Few Circumstances Currently Qualify Renters for Relocation Assistance

Expanding beyond current state law, the charter amendment would only permit specific no-fault evictions and at-fault evictions, such as breach of lease or nonpayment of rent. Pasadena landlords who carry out evictions in violation of the charter amendment could face fines, misdemeanor charges, and civil suits filed by wrongfully evicted tenants, the city attorney, or the proposed rental board.

Additionally, the charter amendment would require landlords to provide tenants with relocation assistance for specific no-fault evictions or offer them a comparable vacant unit at the same or lower rent. Under current state law, AB1482 (the California Tenant Protection Act of 2019), only a very limited set of triggering conditions exist for relocation assistance, Panangaden explained. “It’s pretty easy for landlords to avoid triggering it.”

Relocation assistance under the ballot measure would include reimbursement to the tenants in the weeks before they vacate their unit for all relocation expenses, including security deposits, utility connection charges, and other moving costs.

Tenants May Use Public Rental Registry to Navigate Pasadena’s Housing Market

Detailed information about occupancy history, asking rents, and ownership of rental units in the city is currently difficult to find, particularly for tenants whose housing is owned by corporations.

If the charter amendment is approved by voters, the rental board must set up and make available an online rental registry within a year. Owners of rental units in the city would need to register their properties with the proposed rental board, which will manage and update the online portal with the supplied information.

The portal will contain data on each rental property, including addresses, unit numbers and sizes, amenities, history of rents charged to tenants, and contact information for an owner or representative of the property. Not only would tenants be able to verify a unit is legal before signing a lease, they could also see if the landlord has a history of rent increases.

“People need to go into rental contracts with their eyes open,” Panangaden said. “Right now, landlords run a background check on the tenants, but the tenants have no ability to find out if the landlord has a history of not maintaining the unit, habitability issues, court code, or enforcement issues.”

According to Pasadena for Rent Control finance coordinator Ryan Bell, the charter amendment was designed to even out the power dynamic between landlord and tenant, protect marginalized communities, and guide the city’s housing policy.

“I definitely think [the amendment] will maintain diversity. It’ll stabilize our communities, especially our communities of color, who are just under siege with rent increases and harassment, and the Latino community, in particular, undocumented families, that are targets for abuse,” Bell said.

By 2023, Protections for Renters Could Be Enforced by a Tenant-Majority Board

An 11-member independent rental board would be created under the charter amendment to implement and enforce the law. Comprising seven tenant members and four at-large members, all positions on the rental board will be salaried and have a four-year term limit.

“This was probably the part of the amendment that we discussed most. And for the longest amount of time during drafting, we really wanted to have a board that wasn’t just staffed with friends of the City Council members,” Panangaden said. “I mean, like 60% of the households in our city [are]tenants, but we don’t have any tenants on city council.” 

If the charter amendment is approved by voters in November, the Pasadena City Council will put out a call for applications within 30 days and publicly appoint representatives to the rental board within four months.