California tenants demand rent caps from town halls

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Kim Carlson, left, and her two grandsons Thomas Heidt, 12, and Treveyon Carlson, 9, sit outside her apartment at the Delta Pines resort in Antioch, California. Despite a landmark Tenant Protection Act approved by California lawmakers in 2019, tenants across the state are heading to the polls and city councils to demand even more safeguards. They want to crack down on tenant harassment, poor living conditions and callous landlords who are usually limited companies. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez)

ANTIOCH, Calif. (AP) — Kim Carlson’s apartment has been repeatedly flooded with human feces, the plumbing has never been fixed in the public housing complex she lives in in the Antioch suburb of the San Francisco Bay.

Her property manager is verbally abusive and calls her 9-year-old grandson, who has autism, a dirty word, she said. His radiator was broken for a month this winter and the dishwasher has mold underneath. But the straw broke the camel’s back in May: a rent increase of $500, bringing the rent for the two-bedroom apartment to $1,854 per month.

Carlson and other tenants hit by similarly high increases converged on Antioch City Hall for marathon hearings, pleading for protection. In September, City Council, by a 3-2 vote, approved a 3% cap on annual increases.

Carlson, who is disabled and undergoing treatment for lymphoma cancer, begins to cry as she imagines what her life might be like.

“Just normality, just freedom, just being able to walk outside and breathe and not have to go out and wonder what’s going to happen next,” said Carlson, 54, who lives with his daughter and two grandchildren. son in the Delta Pines apartment complex. . “You know, to make the kids feel safe. My babies do not feel safe.

Despite a landmark tenant protection law approved by California lawmakers in 2019, tenants in the nation’s most populous state are heading to the polls and city councils to demand even more safeguards. They want to crack down on tenant harassment, poor living conditions and callous landlords who are usually limited companies.

Elected officials, for their part, seem more inclined than in the past to regulate what is a private contract between landlord and tenant. In addition to Antioch, the city councils of Bell Gardens, Pomona, Oxnard and Oakland have all cut maximum rent increases this year as inflation hit a 40-year high. Other city councils have put the issue to the November 8 ballot.

Leah Simon-Weisberg, legal director of advocacy group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, says local officials can no longer pretend supply and demand are working when so many families face homelessness. In June, 1.3 million California households reported being behind on rent, according to the US Census Bureau.

The situation in working-class Antioch — where more than half the population is black or Latino — illustrates how tenuous even a victory for tenants can be.

California Tenant Protection Law limits rent increases to a maximum of 10% per year. But many types of housing are exempt, including low-income complexes funded by government tax credits and increasingly owned by corporations, LLCs or limited partnerships.

Tenants who flooded city council meetings drew largely from four affordable housing complexes, including sister properties Delta Pines and Casa Blanca, where about 150 households received large rent increases in May.

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