Buena Park could become the second Orange County city to enact rent control following a recent vocal push by renters and activists in the city and beyond.
“I’ve witnessed first hand the financial struggles many of my clients face,” said Jenny Seon, an attorney with the Buena Park-based community group, Ahri.
“These individuals are barely making ends meet and many of them are on the verge of eviction and homelessness,” Seon told Buena Park City Council members during last Tuesday’s meeting.
If Buena Park does adopt rent control, it’ll be the second city in OC to do so.
Roughly 10 miles south on the 5 freeway, Santa Ana’s wrestling with a lawsuit from the Apartment Association of Orange County, which says the rent control law is preventing landowners from getting a fair return on their property investments.
[Read: OC Landlord Group Moves to Sue Santa Ana to Overturn Rent Control]
“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,” reads the Association’s lawsuit.
Scores of residents activists told city officials during Tuesday’s public comment that rents are becoming increasingly unaffordable while living conditions are deteriorating.
In their own public comments from the dais, Buena Park City Council members all seemingly agreed that rent regulations are needed in a city home to roughly 83,000 people with an average rent of $1,800 a month.
While they all expressed support for rent control, council members said they need to see specific examples and data.
“I want more information. I would like for you to bring back more that we can work with, but I think we need to do something to assist with rental stabilization so we don’t increase homelessness in this city and people have a sense of security that the roof they have over their heads is not going to be ripped from them for spurious reasons,” said Councilwoman Susan Sonne at last Tuesday’s council meeting.
It mirrors efforts by activists and renters in Santa Ana, Orange County’s first city to enact a rent control law in 2021.
[Read: Santa Ana Becomes First Orange County City With Rent Control]
Buena Park’s rent control discussion also brought out some Santa Ana activists – part of the same people who successfully pushed for the rent caps in their city.
“I’m from Santa Ana where we became the first city in Orange County to enact a rent protection ordinance … I”ve seen first hand through my neighbors and friends how rent control allowed them to stay in their neighborhoods,” said Bulmaro Vicente, an organizer with the Santa Ana-based activist group, Chispa, who ran unsuccessfully for state assembly last year.
Last Tuesday’s council meeting in Buena Park marked another chapter of local community organizations, activist groups and residents from different cities coming together to push elected officials to address quality of life concerns.
[Read: COVID Forged a New Generation of Community Activism Across OC]
While the City of Santa Ana is being sued by the Apartment Association of Orange County over the law, residents in other parts of OC are also calling on their elected officials to consider rent control – like residents and community health workers in Costa Mesa.
[Read: After Santa Ana, Rent Control Murmurs Get Louder in One Coastal Orange County City]
Buena City Councilman Jose Trinidad Castañeda, who brought the proposal forward, said he’s looking to make rent control stricter than state law – although specifics are still being ironed out.
“Hopefully a 3% maximum allowable increase,” Castañeda said at Tuesday’s meeting.
State rent control law caps rent increases at 5% plus the increase in cost of living or 10% annually – whichever of the two is lower.
As Buena Park city staff construct the proposal, Castañeda said landlords, property owners and related interest groups need to be included in the discussions.
“I don’t want them to feel vilified,” he said.
Castañeda also floated the idea of city officials monitoring reasons for rent bumps beyond cost of living increases.
He told staff to bring back proposals with “options on how to enforce if landlords don’t provide justifications on the rent increases … on why they’re increasing rent beyond [the consumer price index]. Otherwise we’re allowing greed to run amuck.”
Recently, residents have been alleging subpar living conditions and retaliation by some landlords for filing maintenance complaints with city code enforcement officers – something Castañeda has echoed from the dais.
Earlier this month, Buena Park City Council members moved forward with a measure to hold landlords accountable for repairs by having code enforcement staff conduct routine inspections of apartments.
[Read: Buena Park Officials Consider Holding Landlords Accountable for Apartment Repairs]
“We want to be able to incentivize folks who are living in bad conditions to seek better conditions without fear of being evicted,” Councilman Connor Traut said at last Tuesday’s meeting.
Buena Park is also looking to create a rental registration board – a focal point in the Apartment Association’s lawsuit against Santa Ana.
Yet that seemingly didn’t deter Buena Park City Council members.
“I’m curious why the lawsuit on rental registration – isn’t renting properties a form of a business and can we not require that businesses do some sort of self identification?” Sonne asked City Attorney Christopher Cardinale.
Cardinale responded that “cities have, for the most part, been successful” in rent control lawsuits.
But he said the Association’s focus on Santa Ana’s rental board “is a new argument – it’s basically a Fourth Amendment illegal search and seizure right they’re arguing.
Council members also said the push for rent control also shouldn’t discourage new housing construction in Buena Park and city staff said making the law apply to rentals older than 15 years shouldn’t limit new homes.
“Obviously we are short of housing and while we need to protect our citizens that are renting, we also need to make sure there’s going to be incentive or some sort of rights for new developers to develop housing,” Councilwoman Joyce Ahn said.
Traut said officials need to make sure they “don’t put something in place that’s going to disincentivize construction in our city.”
Responding to Traut’s concerns, Cardinale said property owners “need to have a fair return on their investment.”
Mayor Art Brown put it simply last Tuesday:
“I support everything that’s been said tonight.”
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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