Could rent control be coming to San Diego?

A statewide vote to allow more widespread rent control could have big implications for San Diego County if it passes.

The effort, led by tenants rights groups and bankrolled by Los Angeles HIV/AIDS activist Michael Weinstein, qualified for the Nov. 6 ballot in June.

If approved by voters, the initiative would repeal a 1995 law that limited county and city governments’ ability to slow rent hikes. Even if it passes, it would still be up to local lawmakers to approve rent control or approve citizens’ initiatives.

San Diego is one of the few big cities in California with no form of rent control, unlike San Francisco, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Alan Gin, an economist at the University of San Diego, said rent limitations may help some people but it could result in less housing being built, something desperately needed in the state.

“Housing prices have gotten way out of hand in California,” he said. “Even though I don’t think (rent control) will work, I can understand people’s frustration.”

Economists typically argue that rent control will lead to a reduction in the quality and quantity of housing available. But, that hasn’t stopped frustrated renters in San Diego and the rest of California from taking action.

The average San Diego County rent in March was $1,887, pushed up by an influx of new, high-end apartments downtown, said MarketPointe Realty Advisors. It has increased 8 percent in a year.

A local organizer for Prop 10, Paola Martinez, said low-income Californians are struggling to survive. She said arguments that rent control would slow housing production are hard to stomach for low-income renters.

“Housing is being created, it’s just not the type of housing we need,” she said of new residential projects. “We are not building affordable housing.”

One of the most common arguments against rent control is that if a landlord knows they can’t charge more, they won’t fix up the apartment. Try telling that to a San Diego renter, Martinez said.

“Even without rent control, those issues are still there,” she said. “We’re seeing increases of rent at a super high rate in pretty deplorable conditions, uninhabitable conditions. Their landlords aren’t making any repairs, even when they are increasing the rent.”

Prop. 10 would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which bans cities and counties from capping rent increases on apartments built after 1995. If passed, it means new apartment buildings that are being constructed downtown could be subject to the law. The act also prevents rent control on single-family homes.

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