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What’s in the law?

The Pasadena Fair and Equitable charter amendment (Pasadena Measure H) has five parts:

Rent control: To the extent allowed by State law, rent increases would be limited to 75% of inflation every year after a tenancy is established. 75% of inflation typically works out to around 2-3% each year. If a landlord can prove that their operating expenses have increased, they can petition for a special one-time rent increase. If a tenant can prove that the services provided or quality of their unit has decreased, they can petition for a special one-time rent decrease. 
Eviction protections: Landlords would only be able to evict tenants after providing a reason (“just cause”). 
Some allowed reasons for evictions are “at fault” just causes like non-payment of rent, breach of lease, and refusal to give access for necessary repairs. Other reasons for evictions are “no fault” just causes like the landlord permanently removing the unit from the rental market, or a government order to vacate the unit. 
Relocation assistance: If a tenant is evicted for a “no fault” reason, our amendment would provide additional help to the tenant. Landlords would have to pay relocation assistance to help them move, and if the landlord has a comparable unit available, the tenants being displaced would have first choice of that unit.
Rental board: A rental board appointed by city council, but otherwise independent of it, would be created to implement the provisions of the charter amendment. The rental board has seven tenant members (one from each district of Pasadena) and four “at-large” members. Board positions are salaried, so that low-income tenants can afford to participate on it. The salaries will be paid by a per-unit flat fee on any landlords wishing to rent out residential units in Pasadena.
Rental registry: A rental registry will keep track of all the rental units in the city and the history of the rent charged at that rental unit. This will help housing advocates, local government, and the rental board make informed decisions about housing policy. It will also allow tenants to verify that a unit is legal before signing a lease, and see if the landlord has a history of frequent rent increases. 

We want to be completely transparent about what’s in the Pasadena Fair and Equitable Housing charter amendment. You can read the exact language of the law here – and contact us if you have any questions!

Frequently Asked Questions about Pasadena Measure H

Does Pasadena need rent control?

  • Desperately. Over 50% of Pasadena Tenants are rent burdened, meaning that they spend over 30% of their household income on rent. 27% of Pasadena’s Tenants spend over 50% of their incomes on rent.
  • The problem is especially dire for Pasadenans with lower incomes. A staggering 89% of Pasadena renters making between $10k and $50k per year are rent burdened, and 60% of renters in this income bracket spend over half their incomes on rent. Many families are forced to cut back on essential expenditures just to keep a roof over their heads.
  • The problem is growing worse each year. The median gross rent in Pasadena increased by 32% (from $1287 to $1669) between 2012 and 2018, while the CPI increased by 12% over the same period. The price of housing is outpacing other costs of living (food, transport, etc.), and it has vastly outpaced wages.
  • The City of Pasadena has acknowledged that severe cost burden is the greatest predictor of homelessness risk. Far too many Pasadenans are living paycheck to paycheck. Unable to accumulate any savings, many of our neighbors are just one emergency away from living on the street.

Do Pasadenans want rent control?

  • Yes! In a 2019 David Binder poll of 700 likely voters in Pasadena, 69% of respondents supported Rent Control and 82% supported Just Cause Eviction Protections.
  • 55% of voters in Pasadena voted yes on Proposition 10 in the 2018 General Election, which would have repealed the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act and hence given California municipalities greater freedom to enact rent control measures.
  • 15,101 registered voters in Pasadena have already signed the petition to qualify Pasadena Measure H—the Pasadena Fair and Equitable Housing charter amendment—for the ballot this year!

Why is the annual general adjustment set at 75% of inflation?

Minimum wages have roughly tracked inflation over the past two decades, but the price of rental housing has vastly outpaced it. This has resulted in the tightening of a financial vice on working people. On one side is a wage floor which has been nearly stagnant for two decades when inflation-corrected (this has increased in Pasadena since 2016, but not nearly enough to keep up with rents). On the other are skyrocketing housing costs which eat up a larger and larger fraction of household income. It is not enough to stop tightening the vice and leave it at that, which is what we would achieve by fixing rent increases to inflation. We must actively loosen the vice, giving working families room to breathe and to save money for their futures. By limiting increases to a value below inflation, and assuming that the long term trajectory of wages will roughly track CPI, we loosen the vice.

We chose 75% of inflation based on an examination of what has worked well for LA-area cities that have already implemented rent control. Both Santa Monica and West Hollywood have had rent control for decades, and these policies have protected their communities from rapidly increasing housing prices. Both cities have found that 75% CPI strikes a good balance between easing financial burdens on Tenants and providing Landlords a Fair Return. In short, we have chosen 75% because it works for Southern California.

Will rent control put landlords out of business?

  • This is a common counterargument, but it is not a realistic concern. Our amendment actually guarantees landlords a fair return on their housing investments. If they can demonstrate that their net income has dropped below their initial income (roughly a year before the law would come into effect), plus upward adjustments to account for inflation, they can petition for an increase in rent in excess of the Annual General Adjustment to reach a fair return.
  • In particular, this allows landlords to finance necessary repairs and periodic improvements to rental units with moderate and temporary rent increases if their net income has not increased enough to afford them out-of-pocket. The notion that rent controlled units invariably become run-down due to lack of market incentive to repair them simply does not apply to modern rent control measures with such rent adjustment mechanisms built in.
  • In conversation with Southern California cities that have already implemented rent control, we have learned that such upward adjustments are actually extremely rare. Due to the Costa-Hawkins bill, landlords are able to charge market rates for all new units, and whenever new tenants move into existing units. That means, in practice, landlords’ incomes are significantly outpacing inflation, even with rent control measures in place. Rent control does not stop landlords from making profits, it simply prevents tenants from being priced out of their homes.

Will rent control lead to a decrease in quality of rental units?

  • Exactly the opposite! Pasadena Measure H actually creates a very strong incentive for landlords to properly maintain rental units. If tenants can show that their landlord has decreased any services (such as garbage collection or parking) or that the condition of the unit has deteriorated beyond standard wear and tear, or if the unit is uninhabitable according to state or local health and safety laws, the tenant can petition for a corresponding decrease in their rent.
  • Under current law, there is practically no financial incentive for landlords to maintain units in good living condition for tenants who are already living in a unit. The only recourse for tenants with serious habitability issues is to withhold rent, which puts them at risk of having an eviction case filed against them in court. Tenants then have to defend themselves, most times without a lawyer. It is a risk most families aren’t able to take just to force their landlord to make necessary repairs.

Didn’t California already provide these protections through Assembly Bill 1482?

  • AB-1482, also known as the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, provided protection against rent gouging, or large, exploitative increases in rent on a short timescale. In particular, it caps annual increases at 5% + CPI, which is roughly 8% per year in LA. This year, the allowed rent increase is even higher at 10%. This may seem like a strong protection, but consider that a rent which increases by 8% each year will double in only nine years. We can virtually guarantee that wages will not keep up with that pace, even once inflation has been factored in. Pasadena Measure H would only see rents increase at roughly 2% annually, providing longer-term stability for Pasadena’s most financially vulnerable families. AB-1482 also allows upward rent adjustments twice a year. Measure H would only allow one, giving tenants more confidence in their financial projections.
  • AB-1482 also offers Just Cause Eviction Protections, but they only apply to tenants who have resided in their units for a year or more, and are in certain types of units (for example single family homes are exempt from eviction protections.) Our amendment would extend protections immediately to all tenants.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, AB-1482 is set to expire in 2030. Our central goal is to provide long-term stability to all Pasadenans, so that we can maintain and build our communities over generations. The need for stable housing doesn’t have an expiration date. Neither does Measure H.

Won’t many units be exempt from rent control due to the statewide Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act?

  • Single family homes and units built after 1995 are exempt from local rent control because of the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act. However, we estimate that nevertheless at least 2/3 of the rental units in Pasadena will be rent controlled immediately upon passage of Pasadena Measure H (the Pasadena Fair and Equitable Housing Charter Amendment). From the most recent census data we estimate that about 21% of rental units in the city are single family homes. We also make a conservative estimate that about 13.5% of rental units were built after 1995. In the worst case scenario that there is no overlap at all between these two groups, this still accounts for only 1/3 of rental units in the city.
  • All units, even those exempted from rent control by Costa Hawkins, will benefit from the eviction protections, relocation assistance, and rental registry parts of the charter amendment.
  • The Pasadena Fair and Equitable Charter Amendment allows the rental board to extend rent control to more units once the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act is repealed or modified at the state level.

Who will oversee the program? To whom will they be accountable?

  • The program will be overseen by an eleven member Rental Housing Board, to be appointed by the City Council. In an effort to fairly represent tenant interests, the Board will consist of seven tenant members, one from each of Pasadena’s seven districts. None of these members may themselves own rental housing. The remaining four members do not need to be tenants, and may or may not own rental housing.
  • Before being considered for appointment to the rental board, perspective members must receive the written endorsement of at least 25 of their neighbors in their district. Rental Board positions have four year term limits.
  • This board will establish and publish details of rental regulations not specified in the language of the amendment. They will also appoint Hearing Officers to hear and adjudicate petitions for upward or downward adjustments of rents.
  • Decisions of the Hearing Officers may be appealed to the Rental Board itself. If either a tenant or a landlord feels they have been wronged by a decision of the Board, they are free to appeal to a California Court. In this way, the Board is held accountable both by the public and by the State Judiciary.

How will the program be made transparent to the public?

  • To the maximum extent permissible by law, all hearings and meetings of the Rental Board will be open to the public, so no regulations or decisions will be made behind closed doors.
  • Our amendment establishes a Rental Registry which will collect data about Rental Units in the city. This database will provide the city with insight into the status of rental housing in Pasadena, and crucially, into the stock of affordable rental housing.
  • This data will include addresses, unit numbers, unit attributes (size, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.), occupation history, history of maximum allowable rents and actual rents charged, and utilities, services, and other amenities. The Rental Board will maintain an online portal, accessible to the public, which will publish as much of this data as possible without compromising the privacy of tenants.
  • The Board may also publish information about violation of housing codes, or of the amendment itself, in an effort to bring transparency to the behavior of Pasadena landlords.
  • The Board will periodically collect, analyze, and publish reports on the status of rental housing in Pasadena using this and other sources of data. In this way, the public can make determinations about the efficacy of housing regulations.

How will the program be financed? How will this money be used?

  • The Rental Board will be primarily financed by an annual Rental Housing Fee collected from landlords of buildings covered by the law. No new tax on the residents of Pasadena will be introduced by Pasadena Measure H.
  • This fee on landlords may not generally be passed through to tenants. However, if a landlord can demonstrate that the fee has prevented them from making a Fair Return, they can file a petition for a commensurate upward adjustment in rent.
  • The Rental Board may also fine landlords who violate the law, and may put the resulting revenue towards financing its operations.
  • Finances will be used to compensate Rental Board members for their time, to pay staff members including Hearing Officers and administrative staff, and to pay for the costs incurred by managing the Rental Registry and its associated online portal. Additionally, this money will be used to cover legal fees incurred by the Board when defending itself and the law against litigation, or when enforcing the law.

Why is the Rental Board salaried? How was the amount of the salary chosen?

  • The members of the rental board receive a salary in order to ensure that working Pasadena tenants can afford to sit on the board. What we don’t want is for the rental board to be staffed only by independently wealthy members, who will not represent the interests of ordinary Pasadena tenants.
  • An hourly wage of 2.5x Pasadena minimum wage was selected because that is how much it costs to afford a typical rent in Pasadena. According to the most recent census data, the typical rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Pasadena is $1953. To afford that without experiencing rent burden (i.e. not spending more than 30% of your total income on rent), you would need to make $37.5 per hour working 40 hours per week. Pasadena minimum wage is currently $15 an hour, so 2.5 times minimum wage is exactly $37.5 per hour.
  • Rental board members can work a maximum of 20 hours a week. That means the maximum annual salary they could receive is $39k. With 11 board members, and 35150 occupied rental housing units in the city, this corresponds to a fee of only $11 per year per rental housing unit.
  • Pasadena Measure H (The Pasadena Fair and Equitable Housing Charter Amendment) prohibits this fee from being passed through to tenants unless a landlord can show that it is preventing them from making a fair return in a petition before the rental board.

What about outside legal recourse for tenants?

  • In addition to the petition process created in this amendment, tenants may always file a civil suit against a Landlord who charges them excessive rent, or who otherwise violates the amendment article. The Rental Board or City Attorney may bring a civil action against a landlord on a tenant’s behalf in response to such violations, allowing the tenant to opt in or out.
  • Furthermore, if a landlord violates any provision of the article or any regulation promulgated by the Rental Board, tenants may raise that violation as an affirmative defense in an eviction case (unlawful detainer).

Will landlords be legally allowed to offer tenants lump sums in exchange for vacating a unit?

  • Such agreements, known as “Cash for Keys” or “Tenant Buyout” agreements are allowed under Measure H. However, we have implemented regulations to make sure that Tenants who participate in these agreements are fully informed of their rights and are not coerced.
  • The tenant must be informed of their rights under Measure H before executing such an agreement, and all agreements must be provided to the tenant on a standard form prepared by the Rental Board which must be signed and dated by both landlord and tenant. This form will notify the tenant that they have 45 days from the signature date to cancel the agreement with no penalty. It will also advise them that they have the right to refuse such an agreement, and to consult an attorney and/or the Rental Board before signing.
  • The landlord must file the executed agreement with the Board.