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Rent control may be on California ballots for the third time in four elections

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Justice for Renters, an initiative campaign sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), submitted signatures on June 20 to place an initiative on the Nov. 2024 ballot in California to prohibit the state from limiting local rent control measures. This would be the third rent control initiative sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in four election cycles. The two prior initiatives in 2018 and 2020 were defeated with about 59% of voters opposing both measures.

The 2024 initiative is designed to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which was enacted in 1995. The act prohibits rent control on single-family homes and houses completed after Feb. 1, 1995. By repealing the act, the initiative would allow cities and counties to limit rent on any housing and limit the rent for a first-time tenant. Any local laws currently inoperative under Costa-Hawkins would take effect upon its repeal.

Proposition 21 (2020) would have also repealed the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act and allowed local governments to enact rent control on housing that was first occupied over 15 years ago, with an exception for landlords who own no more than two homes with distinct titles or subdivided interests. AHF spent $40.6 million in support of the initiative. Opponents received $83.6 million to campaign against Proposition 21.

Proposition 10 (2018) would have also repealed Costa-Hawkins and allowed local governments to adopt rent control on any type of housing similar to the 2024 initiative. AHF contributed $22.5 million to the campaign in support of Proposition 10. Opponents received $71.4 million to campaign against Proposition 10.

The 2024 initiative needs 546,651 valid signatures (5% of the votes cast in the 2022 gubernatorial election) to qualify for the ballot. The secretary of state has not reported the total of unverified signatures submitted to local election officials. If the total number is equal to at least 100% of the required signatures, then local election officials perform a random check of signatures submitted in their counties. If the random sample estimates that more than 110% of the required number of signatures are valid, the initiative is eligible for the ballot. If the random sample estimates that between 95 and 110% of the required number of signatures are valid, a full check of signatures is done to determine the total number of valid signatures.

Proponents filed the initiative on Dec. 22, 2022. On Feb. 27, 2023, the initiative was cleared for signature gathering. On April 21, sponsors of the initiative reported collecting at least 25% of the signatures required.

Seven ballot measures have qualified for the ballot in California in 2024. One of the measures also relates to housing. The state legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment to repeal Article 34 of the state constitution, which requires local voter approval via a ballot measure for federal and/or state government-funded housing projects classified as low rent. It is set to appear on the March 5 primary ballot, but the state legislature is considering a bill that would move it to the November ballot.

The other six measures, including two veto referendums, are related to pandemic prevention, the state’s minimum wage, remediation for labor violations, vote requirements for new taxes, regulation of fast-food working conditions, and oil and gas well regulations.

In California, an average of 82 ballot initiatives were filed between 2010 and 2022 with about nine initiatives qualifying for the ballot each election cycle.

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