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Legislature Set to Decide Fate of 20 Housing Bills

Santa Monica Lookout | By Jorge Casuso

August 9, 2023 -- Landlords could be limited to collecting the equivalent of one month's rent as security deposit and cities could be prohibited from encouraging landlords to turn away or evict tenants who have committed a crime.

Those are two of the 20 housing-related bills the California Legislature will consider in its final month of action after a record number of bills was introduced during the current session, according to a report to the Rent Control Board.

The bills included "a robust set of proposals around rent stabilization, tenants’ rights, fair housing protections and other housing measures," according to the report that will be presented to the Board Thursday

"As is often the case, that bevy of bills has been winnowed considerably in the intervening months as bills died in committee or on the floor," wrote Brian Augusta, the Board's legislative advocate.

In a handful of cases "authors decided to make their bills 'two-year bills,' effectively hitting pause until next January."

Two key bills related to rent stabilization -- SB 567, introduced by Sen. Maria-Elena Durazo (D), and SB 466, introduced by Sen. Aisha Wahab (D) -- "have met differing fates," Augusta wrote.

Durazo's bill, which began as an ambitious attempt to expand the Tenant Protection Act (TPA), could be headed to the Assembly floor, although it "has been narrowed considerably."

The bill began by "covering more tenants in single-family homes and lowering the rent cap." But the version before the Appropriations Committee only clarifies the TPA’s no-fault just cause provisions and provides enhanced public and private enforcement, according to the report.

Wahab's bill was "originally proposed to amend the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act to alter both the new construction exemption and the exemption for single-family homes and condos," Augusta wrote.

The bill, too, was narrowed and subsequently voted down on he Senate floor after strong opposition from the California Apartment Association, the Realtors and other landlord groups.

"The bill was granted reconsideration, meaning it could have another vote on the Senate floor in January, but typically such bills are not brought up again," Augusta wrote.

Other bills that must be voted on before the September 14 deadline include AB 12, which would reduce the security deposit a landlord can collect.

The amount would drop from the equivalent of two months rent for an unfurnished unit and three-months rent for a furnished unit to one month's rent in all cases.

Two other bills -- AB 1097 and SB 267 -- would allow tenants on rental assistance and on government rent subsidies to provide alternative evidence of their financial responsibility and their ability to pay in lieu of credit history.

A tenant with "a disability related to mobility" can seek to be moved to a first-floor unit under the same rent rate and lease terms under AB 1620 sponsored by Santa Monica's representative Rick Zbur.

Two bills sponsored by Senator Scott Wiener (D) -- SB 423 and SB 4 -- would grant the State more power to boost housing development, especially affordable housing.

SB 423 would remove the Sunset on SB 35, which allows streamlining for all projects with at least 10 percent lower-income units if a jurisdiction does not have a compliant housing element.

SB 4 makes 100 percent affordable housing projects a use by right on land owned by faith institutions and private colleges and universities.

Both bills are awaiting a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Meanwhile, AB 309, sponsored by Alex Lee (D), would create the "California Housing Authority," an independent state entity, to facilitate the development of social housing in California, according to the report.

Two bills intended to combat discriminatory housing practices will not affect Santa Monica but will have repercussions in cities across the state.

Awaiting a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee is a bill co-sponsored by Santa Monica Senator Ben Allen that would repeal Article 34 of the California Constitution.

The provision requires cities to submit projects to a voter referendum when public funds are allocated to develop low-income rental housing.

Wiener, who co-authored the bill, called Article 34 "a racist provision" that "is designed to keep people of color and poor people out of certain neighborhoods."

The proposed legislation would have no impact on Santa Monica, where voters in 1998 approved a measure that eliminates the need to abide by the 69-year-old article.

The other bill that won't affect Santa Monica is AB 1418, which would limit “crime-free” housing ordinances and nuisance policies that instruct or encourage landlords not to rent to tenants with a criminal history.

An LA Times investigation published in November 2020 found that at least 147 cities and counties -- or more than a quarter of local governments in California -- had enacted a crime-free housing law or "advertise crime-free housing training for landlords."

The investigation found that "most California cities with the largest increases of Black and Latino residents during that time had approved the restrictive housing rules."

According to the Times, "The rules draw strong support from police, prosecutors and politicians who contend that they help keep neighborhoods safe, especially in areas with drug- and gang-related problems."

AB 1418, sponsored by Tina McKinnor (D), who represents the Westside and a region of the South Bay, is awaiting a rescheduled hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.