First published in the Feb. 4 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Rent control was on the docket for the Burbank City Council on Tuesday, a hotly contested issue statewide, and one that the Burbank electorate struck down during the 2020 general election in the form of Measure RC.
City officials argued that additional rent control is much needed, citing inequities in housing prices due to the statewide housing shortage. They ordered city staff to return with a second step report, focusing on renter and landlord protection programs and policies that are “doable and fair,” said Councilwoman Tamala Takahashi. Such policies could include an expansion of the Landlord/Tenant Commission, education programs and reviewing policy in comparable cities.
The report will be heard by the City Council this summer.
“We clearly have a need in our community for renter and landlord support, and for cohesion. Hopefully, this is an opportunity for us to talk this through and to move forward collaboratively and address some of these issues,” Takahashi said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Approximately 59% of Burbank’s residents are renters, and they pay more than $1,900 in rent on average according to the 2020 census, though costs have risen. Rentometer.com — a data scraping tool that aggregates rent prices from popular online listing sites — estimates an average one-bedroom apartment in Burbank costs about $2,200 per month. This estimation only accounts for units that were leased in the last 12 months.
Census data indicates that 29% of Burbank renters set aside more than half of their income for rent payments. In a 2022 survey of Burbank voters, 60% of residents found rent control to be an important issue.
Local landlords say that rent stabilization ordinances will disproportionately increase costs for small property owners and will drive “mom and pop” landlords out of town.
California already has statewide rent control under Assembly Bill 1482, which mandates no more than a 5% annual rent increase adjusted for inflation, or 10% — whichever is lower. Several exemptions exist, however. Most single-family homes, units less than 15 years old and some duplexes are not currently regulated under the state rent control policy.
Mayor Konstantine Anthony said Burbank voters largely opposed the 2020 rent control ordinance, Proposition RC, largely because the ordinance conflicted with the city charter. He proposed Tuesday for staff to return to council with a similar ordinance that synergizes with the charter. He added that Burbank voters did vote in favor of several state level rent control ordinances, though those ordinances were ultimately unsuccessful statewide.
That measure implements rent caps and allows for small landlords to petition the Landlord/Tenant Commission if rent control caps do not work for them.
There are about 23,000 rental units in Burbank, according to city officials, and the estimated cost to the city to maintain a rent control ordinance is $4.5 million per year. This accounts for fees paid by the city to landlords to offset the impact of a rent control ordinance in Burbank.
Pasadena passed local rent control last year and is currently in litigation regarding the measure.
The council meeting hosted a lengthy public comment session Tuesday. It lasted more than three hours and more than 40 attendees spoke. Another 150 wrote email comments.
Generally, comments were from landlords or realtors — small and large — who opposed rent control, though several pro-tenant speakers took the pro-rent control position.
“The reality of rent control has always been far from the dream it is sold as. Burbank residents deserve a little respect. They voted against this overwhelmingly,” said Cameron Hunter, director for the Burbank Association of Realtors. “For future tenants, this measure will create a lull in smaller markets. To maintain these properties, the cost of labor and materials — there’s no limiting on that being discussed. … it will cause an issue in the future balance. Mom-and-pops won’t be able to survive.”
The tenants’ response: “People cannot afford to live in our communities anymore, and landlords are doing just fine,” said Ryan Bell, a spokesperson for Tenants Together, a pro-tenant organization, who called in to the meeting. “There is plenty of evidence to suggest that, over the course of the pandemic, landlords have profited, and rents are up 20% since before the pandemic started. [More than] $40 billion has been spent to bail out landlords in California for the rent that wasn’t paid.”
The council voted for a next step report from city staff, with Anthony dissenting in a protest vote, saying, “This is just dragging our feet.” Anthony had hoped the Council would move toward policy similar to Measure RC, but others on the panel felt they could come up with a more equitable solution when they work collaboratively. Anthony still favors rent stabilization but wants to see the process expedited.
“Rent stabilization doesn’t solve the problem. What solves the problem is adding housing units that our community desperately needs. The issue is that, in two years on council, we’ve probably entitled 1,000 units. None of them have broken ground yet. It takes time, and that is why I believe rent stabilization is one of many tools to help in the interim. It prevents the displacement of tenants,” said Vice Mayor Nick Schultz, who added that eviction protections are also necessary to consider when discussing rent stabilization.
Burbank has set goals to make way for 12,000 new housing units by 2035, and the Council has made their position clear on the issue. They intend to build as much housing as possible in line with state goals in an effort to balance housing prices.
“If you rely on rent stabilization as the end-all, be-all, you’re not solving the problem,” Schultz said.