If California voters approve Proposition 10 this fall, they won’t be ending the debate over how to address the state’s soaring rents.
In fact, by repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, voters will spark a multitude of intense housing deliberations at the local level.
“Ultimately, Prop. 10 is really about local control,” said David Campos, chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and a former supervisor, who supports the proposition. “It is really up to the individual jurisdictions to decide for themselves what makes sense.”
Approved in 1995, Costa-Hawkins froze in place a hodgepodge of existing rent control ordinances across California and restricted the ability of cities to expand rent control to newer buildings, condominiums or single-family homes.
With the measure to allow rent control expansion heading to the November ballot, tenants, landlords, developers and local officials have all expressed uncertainty over what Bay Area governments would do with new power to regulate rents.
“I don’t think that it is realistic for us to presume that anything will happen,” Campos said.
One acute fear for landlords is vacancy control, or limits on what new tenants can be charged for rent. Under Costa-Hawkins, landlords can increase rent to market rate after a tenant leaves.
“With rent control, there’s really no ability for us to have a lot of control over our profit margins,” said Robert Thomas, a landlord who owns 200 units throughout the state. “One of the concerns we have with [Proposition 10] is that we wouldn’t be able to update the actual rents on vacant units to what they should be.”
Thomas said he rents out three units of a building in San Francisco, with rent-controlled tenants paying $2,000 a month.
“When one went vacant, the market rate was $3,600,” he said. “So those two tenants that are saving $1,600 make it very difficult for us to do the repairs.”
Thomas’ fears could become a reality in Berkeley, one of the few cities in California that had vacancy control before Costa-Hawkins. If Proposition 10 passes, the rent on vacant units in Berkeley will once again be regulated.

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