An Orange County landlord group wants to overturn protections for tenants against rent increases and evictions in Santa Ana, and moved to file a lawsuit on Tuesday against the landmark city housing policies first approved by council members in 2021.

The Apartment Association of Orange County is also challenging a seven-member board the city later approved as a rent control enforcement mechanism – to review landlord-tenant disputes starting as early as this Summer – as well as the requirement that landlords pay to register the rental units they own into a city listing.

The rental board and registry were approved in the later part of last year, as amendments to the 2021 laws. 

In the Feb. 14 lawsuit slated for OC Superior Court, the Apartment Association says the city rent control ordinance is an “unconstitutional” infringement upon what landlords contend to be their right to a “fair and reasonable return” on their property investments. 

“The composition of the Rental Housing Board is imbalanced in favor of tenants by design. By stacking the deck against landlords and in favor of tenants and tenant interests, the Rental Housing Board will not be a forum for fair adjudication of the petitions presented to it,” reads the legal filing. 

In a Tuesday statement, the group wrote that the laws are “biased against property owners in the City.”

“Rent controls specifically are legitimate exercises of a municipality’s police power if, and only if, they are reasonably calculated to eliminate excessive rents while simultaneously providing landlords with a just and reasonable return on their property,” reads the lawsuit. 

It adds:

“The face of the Ordinance makes it apparent that the effect of the Ordinance’s rent control provisions will necessarily be to lower rents more than reasonably required for the Ordinance’s legitimate purposes, if any exist, and are thus constitutionally confiscatory.” 

While real estate groups and property owners mounted vocal opposition to the city laws, officials offered several routes for landlords to find exemptions

Landlords can petition to raise rent beyond the city’s 3% cap if they can show they can’t get a “fair and reasonable return” on their property without it. 

And starting in July of this year, landlords can petition to pass the costs of an apartment’s renovation and installation expenses onto tenants. 

Following rent control’s 2021 passage in town, landlord groups hoping to overturn it sought a voter referendum, which in turn drew criticism from tenants’ rights advocates that landlord canvassers misled residents into signing their petition. 

[Read: Critics Say Landlord PAC is Misleading Voters in Effort to Repeal Santa Ana’s New Rent Control Law]

Though that effort ultimately fell short, with landlords opting not to submit their petitions with the city to qualify the referendum – a moment in which the city’s yearly rent increase cap seemed safe from being stricken.

Until now.

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