With Rents Soaring Across LA, Bell Gardens Becomes The Latest City To Move Towards Rent Control
With high inflation leading to double-digit rent hikes for many Southern Californians, some cities in the Los Angeles area are deciding they want stronger limits on rent increases.
On Monday night, Bell Gardens became the latest city to take action. Its city council unanimously voted to advance a rent control plan that limits annual increases to no more than 4%.
Pomona’s city council also recently capped annual rent increases at 4%.
The Bell Gardens proposal still needs a final vote of approval. Once the plan is finalized, tenant advocates say Bell Gardens will become the first city in Southeast L.A. to enact rent control.
“[Bell Gardens] is essentially a tenant, low-income community, heavily Latino,” said Martha Pineda, an organizer with California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, one of the groups that advocated for rent control in the city.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 96% of Bell Gardens residents identify as Latino. More than one-quarter are experiencing poverty. To cover rent, “most folks will say that they've already talked about cutting down food costs, they've already talked about medicine costs,” Pineda said.
In the past, she said, “rent hikes have essentially displaced a community that's lived [in Bell Gardens] for decades.”
A City Of Renters
The population of Bell Gardens is overwhelmingly made up of renters.
Close to 78% of the city’s households rent their homes, according to 2021 data from the Southern California Association of Governments. Nearly two-thirds of those renter households are considered “rent burdened,” meaning rent consumes more than 30% of their income. About one-third of renters in the city devote more than half of their income to paying the rent.
The measurement tracks changes in the prices of goods and services people typically spend their money on, such as food, energy and housing costs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks CPI nationally and regionally.
How The Caps Work
The Bell Gardens city council agreed to set annual rent increases at 50% of the local consumer price index, a common measure of inflation. The proposal would cap allowable rent increases at no more than 4%, even if inflation runs higher than 8%.
The law would apply to most rental housing built before 1995, with exemptions for single-family homes, condos and owner-occupied buildings with up to three units.
“This is a win not just for the tenants, but also for the landlords, as you will be able to collect a fair and just revenue from your tenants,” said Councilmember Lisseth Flores.
Why Landlords Oppose It
Local landlord groups strongly opposed the Bell Gardens proposal, as they have in other cities considering rent control.
Cities with longstanding rent control — such as Santa Monica, West Hollywood and the city of L.A. — still suffer from high rents, housing shortages and rising homelessness, said Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.
“The [Bell Gardens] city council need not look any farther than the many nearby cities within the County of Los Angeles to see the adverse outcome caused by more than 40-years of rent regulations and tenant protections,” Yukelson said in an email.
What Tenant Advocates Say
Rent hikes have essentially displaced a community that's lived [in Bell Gardens] for decades.
But tenant advocates said allowing rent increases of 10% in low-income communities like Bell Gardens puts unbearable financial strain on many households.
“When you have a single parent raising an entire family on one income, any increase in expenses could be destabilizing,” said Lupe Arreola, executive director of Tenants Together. “It could mean eviction.”
What's Happening Elsewhere
The move to adopt rent control in Bell Gardens is just one of many local responses to rents that have skyrocketed in recent years, especially during a time of high inflation.
Under a state law that allows rent hikes to rise with inflation, landlords can now increase rents by up to 10% — as long as those properties aren’t covered by local rent control. That has increased pressure to pass stricter forms of local rent control.
In addition to Pomona’s enactment of rent control, tenant organizers in Pasadena have placed a rent control measure on the November ballot. And Santa Monica’s city council has approved a ballot measure asking voters to tighten rent control caps.