Los Angeles rents are among the highest in the nation, and with buying out of reach for most residents, millions of Angelenos are stuck paying for high-priced apartments.
But local rent control laws make the cost of some of those units more manageable.
Several cities in Los Angeles County have rent control regulations on the books, and the local rules do more than keep down monthly payments for tenants. They also provide protections from eviction and cash payments in the event a renter is forced to move out of their apartment.
In the city of Los Angeles alone, renters live in more than 600,000 apartments spread across 118,000 properties, according to the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department.
Because local laws are complex, and many renters may not fully understand what benefits of rental regulations they might be entitled to, below are the most essential things LA residents need to know about rent control rules in the area.
How does rent control work?
That depends on the city. The rules are different in every city with rent control laws, but all ordinances put a cap on annual rent increases for eligible units. In the city of Los Angeles, that means that renters in apartments covered by the ordinance should only see their rents rise between 3 and 8 percent annually (the percentage is tied to the Consumer Price Index; this year it’s 4 percent).
Is my apartment rent-controlled?
Finding out if your apartment is under rent control is easy. If live in Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Culver City, Inglewood, the city of Los Angeles, or unincorporated Los Angeles County, the answer could be “yes.” These are the only cities in Los Angeles County that currently have rent control laws on the books.
In these jurisdictions, whether your apartment is rent-controlled depends mainly on what type of housing it is and when it was built. Single-family homes are almost never subject to rent control (though they are in rare cases in Santa Monica and West Hollywood); duplexes, triplexes, and apartment buildings, on the other hand, are fair game.
Date of construction also matters. In the city of Los Angeles, only buildings built and occupied before October 1, 1978 have rent control restrictions. The date varies city-to-city. In Santa Monica, it’s April 10, 1979; in West Hollywood, it’s July 1, 1979; and in Beverly Hills, Culver City, Inglewood, and unincorporated Los Angeles, it’s February 1, 1995.
The city of Long Beach does not cap rent increases, but it does require property owners to to help with moving expenses when hiking rents above 10 percent. The fees range from $2,706 to $4,500.
How do I find out if my apartment is rent-controlled?
In the city of Los Angeles, it’s easy to check on the date of construction for your building—and whether it’s covered by the RSO. Just enter your address into ZIMAS, the city’s property database.
An outline of the property will appear on the map and a sidebar will pop up on the lefthand side of the screen. In the “assessor” tab, you’ll find the building’s date of construction and in the “housing” tab you can find out whether it’s under rent control.
In other cities, tenants can check the county assessor’s site to check on their building’s date of construction. West Hollywood also keeps a list of all rent-controlled units and the city of Santa Monica has a service with which renters can search for apartments under the local rent control ordinance. Residents in unincorporated Los Angeles County can call (833) 223-7368 or email email@example.com.
Why do only older buildings have rent control?
Amid tenant complaints about untenable rent increases in the late 1970s, the Los Angeles City Council took the drastic step of temporarily freezing rents in place, starting on October 1, 1978. During that time, the council worked out the details of the city’s current Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which applies to buildings occupied before the freeze began.
City leaders have never updated the date—primarily because state law prevents them from doing so. The 1995 Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act locks in place local rent control requirements, so that Los Angeles and other cities are unable to impose restrictions on buildings constructed more recently.
Why are some rent-controlled apartments expensive?
When a renter moves out of a rent-controlled apartment, landlords are allowed to raise the price to whatever amount they see fit. That means that unless your friend or family member is already on the lease, you can’t pass down a sweet rent control deal when you decide to find a new place.
That rule is another important element of Costa Hawkins. Critics of the bill argue this part of the law costs LA valuable units of affordable housing, since apartments offered at affordable prices generally become far less affordable once a new tenant moves in. Supporters of the law maintain that allowing units to reset to market rate gives landlords a necessary incentive to keep their buildings in good shape to attract future tenants paying higher prices.
Can I be evicted from a rent-controlled apartment?
Tenants living in rent-controlled units can be evicted, but benefit from stronger legal protections than those living in non-rent-controlled buildings.
In most cases, tenants in West Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Los Angeles can only be evicted when they are at fault—for instance, if they have missed payments or violated the terms of their lease agreement.
A landlord planning to move into an apartment or offer it to a family member can also ask a current tenant to leave.
The only other common cause for eviction is through California’s Ellis Act, which allows landlords to mass-evict tenants when taking a property off the rental market. That could mean tearing the building down, for instance, or redeveloping it as for-sale condos.
In these cases, landlords are required to pay relocation fees to help tenants find and move into a new place. Fees range from $8,050 to $20,050. The amount depends on how long tenants have lived in the building, how old they are, and how much money they earn.
Passed in 1985, the Ellis Act is another piece of legislation despised by tenant advocates, who argue that it encourages property owners to replace affordable apartments with new construction or pricey for-sale units. According to the Coalition for Economic Survival, property owners in the city of Los Angeles have filed more than 25,850 Ellis Act applications since 2001.
In Beverly Hills, eviction protections are weaker, but landlords still have to cover a tenant’s moving expenses when asking them to move out through no fault of their own.
My landlord wants to buy me out of my apartment. Is that legal?
In order to make rent-controlled units available to new tenants, landlords often resort to “cash for keys” offers, in which they effectively pay tenants to leave. Under the city of LA’s rent control laws, this is legal as long as landlords first inform tenants of their rights and notify the city of the agreement.
Tenants have 30 days to cancel the agreement in case their landlord isn’t following through with the terms of the buyout. There’s also no reason that tenants have to agree to the offer. Those who wish to continue living in their current apartment can simply turn the money down.
Does rent control make cities more affordable?
This is something economists and housing advocates love to debate. Supporters of the policy say it provides needed financial relief and a sense of stability for longterm residents—or those who hope to settle down in a neighborhood but don’t have the money to buy. Critics say it can actually make cities more expensive for newcomers and young people.
The authors of the same rent control study that found San Francisco tenants living in rent-controlled units saved almost $3 billion also argue that the policy contributed to the city’s astronomical housing costs by encouraging landlords and developers to cater to wealthier residents in order to offset the lower profits from units under rent control.
Of course, many factors contribute to high housing costs, and plenty of cities without rent control are also quite pricey. Rent regulations are one part of a much larger economic picture.