The short version: Prop. 98 will end rent control in ALL of California and drastically reduce tenants rights. If

you are a renter (and if anyone you know is a renter) you REALLY should share this information with them and encourage them to vote NO on 98 also.


It can be boiled down as simply as that, but if you want more information, the government of California has put out a voter information guide and it has a non-partisan legislative analysis. It also has links to arguments for and against Prop. 98 with rebuttals if you want to read through them.

The full story is that Prop. 98 proponents are trying to present this as a way to curb the power of eminent domain, the ability of the government to seize property. The government seizes property for highways, schools and other public works, but it can also seize property from one private owner to transfer it to another, (typically larger) private landowner to develop shopping malls, stadiums, etc. This is obviously terrible, BUT Prop. 98 goes FAR beyond this to limit ANY government say in private property. What does this mean tangibly? Well, anyone with a rent-controlled place from before Jan. 1, 2007 is safe … until they move out, when landlords can set the prices wherever they want to. Additionally, the language of the law severely restricts tenants rights, so it makes it easier for landlords to evict tenants so, once the space is vacated, they can set prices however they want to (this is why the AARP is a very vocal opponent of Prop. 98). Rent controlled apartments will probably totally disappear in a very short time throughout California — Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose. I should be clear, it doesn’t just eliminate rent control; it makes rent control illegal. But Prop 98 affects every renter, not just those in rent-controlled apartments. Restrictions on how much a landlord can increase rents from year to year will also be greatly diminished. The LA Times editorial board came out against Prop. 98 on May 12th, saying that Prop 98 “masquerades as a simple correction to the notorious Kelo ruling, but really carries the long-standing agenda of interests that want to extinguish rent control and block water and air quality laws.”

Gilda Haas, a professor at UCLA and the executive director of SAJE (a close partner of Esperanza Community Housing) has many posts explaining the effects of a measure like this that go far more in-depth at, like this one about the effect of abolishing rent control in Cambridge, and this one that explains impacts of a similar proposition in Oregon. She also has a post that details her own personal story about how the eminent domain struggle got spun out of control into the current battle to eliminate tenant rights. She puts it very eloquently:

So, for example, laws that only allow landlords to raise the rent once a year or limit the amount that rent can be raised until someone moves out — typically known as rent control — would be illegal.

California cities are already restricted from creating these laws, but now they could not keep the ones we have.

Or, laws that limit the reasons that tenants can be evicted — typically known as “just cause” eviction and provide 12 sound reasons — those would be illegal too.

If a city wants to solve its affordable housing crisis by requiring large developers to include some affordable housing in their mega-projects — well that would be against the law in California. Or, if a City, like Maywood, wants more control over its polluted water system — you got it — against the law. Why? Because these laws impact the ability for an owner to maximize the profit potential of his or her land. Maximize, not earn profit, but maximize profit.

So, the fact that we want to rezone the land next to the 29th Street elementary school so that the current metal plating factory will no longer spew toxic, cancer-producing effluent on little children and teachers — well that might not be illegal under Prop 98, but it certainly would be litigable.

I really think that no matter what your political affiliation, if you are a renter in California you NEED to vote no on Prop 98 on June 3rd and you should tell as many people as you can to do the same.


Even more additional information:
Another item on the ballot is Prop. 99, which is basically eminent domain reform without the drastic effect on rent control and tenant’s rights. It was proposed in reaction to Prop. 98, but, as the legislative analyst says, it does not have much of an effect. If you are very passionate about eminent domain reform and you want to do SOMETHING about it but you don’t want to eliminate rent control in the process, vote no on Prop. 98 and vote yes on Prop. 99. If both pass (get more than 50% “yes” votes) then the one with the greatest number of votes will supersede the other. So it’s most important that Prop. 98 FAILS with your NO vote.