California tenants receive rent-hike threats that will only be rescinded if rent-control initiative fails

Tenants in California have received threatening letters from their landlords promising massive rent hikes if Proposition 10 (previously), which restores rent control, passes.

It's part of a national, lavishly financed attack on pro-tenancy measures, which has coincided with the entry of large private equity firms into the rental property market, skyrocketing rents and evictions, and a calamitous decline in the safety and quality of rental housing.

In Boston, landlord lobbyists killed a modest measure that would produce public statistics on evictions and educate tenants about their rights in law. Oregon has a new super PAC that is pre-emptively campaigning against any future rent control measures; New York City's bid to freeze rent on rent-stabilized apartments was killed by a seven-figure lobbying campaign.

Paid California signature-gatherers have been caught lying to people they approach, telling them that a pro-rent-control measure was anti-rent-control.

Opponents of rent control often cite a Stanford business-school study that purported to show that rent control has the opposite of the intended effect, but that study has deep flaws, and also shows that rent control prevents evictions of existing tenants, especially people on fixed incomes and families struggling to get by.

These efforts are part of a massive attack corporate landlords have been waging on rent control across the state. And though they claim to be speaking for the mom-and-pop landlords of California, the leaders of this campaign are some of the largest property owners in the country. Blackstone, the world’s largest real estate management firm, has spent nearly $7 million to defeat Prop 10. Other top donors include Equity Residential, the third-largest apartment owner in the country, and AvalonBay Communities, the twelfth-largest property owner. These mostly Wall Street–based moguls have pooled as much as $60 million (with as much as $2 million raised in the last week alone) primarily to fund an enormous advertising blitz, eclipsing the $22 million raised by the coalition of over 150 housing advocacy, community, political, and faith-based organizations that, along with the California Democratic Party, has rallied around the ballot initiative.

If Proposition 10 passes, it would be not only the most significant attempt to roll back state limitations on rent control, but also the greatest success to date of the burgeoning national tenants’ rights movement—and real estate groups are responding with full force. Rent control, which is illegal in 27 states, has become a campaign issue across the country, and the landlord lobby has been rushing to squelch tenants’ rights campaigns wherever they spring up.

The Deceptive, Shameful, Lucratively Funded War Against Rent Control [Sophie Kasakove/New Republic]