Gov. Newsom Signs Santa Monica-Sponsored Bill Protecting Disabled Renters

It Marks the First Time the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act Has Been Substantially Amended

By Zach Armstrong

Legislation sponsored by the City of Santa Monica along with the City of West Hollywood was signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to help disabled renters maintain rental rates and terms while moving into accessible units.

Under AB 1620, which was signed on Oct. 11, local jurisdictions can require landlords to allow physically-disabled tenants (not subject to nonpayment eviction) to move into similar or smaller units on an accessible floor. The tenant would also keep the same rent rate and terms of their lease as long as the move is necessary to accommodate their disability, no operational elevator serves the floor of their current dwelling, the new dwelling doesn’t require renovation to comply with safety standards, applicable authorities determine the owner will still receive a fair rate of return, and the tenant requests to move into an available unit prior to it becoming available.

A comparable or smaller unit is defined as having the same or less bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, and parking spaces. Language of the bill was authored by Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur who collaborated with Santa Monica Rent Control Board Chairperson Anastasia Foster along with West Hollywood officials.

According to a news release from Santa Monica, this marks the first time the 1995 State legislation known as the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act has been substantially amended. The law allows property owners to reset rents at market rate for most new tenancies in apartments subject to rent control.

Disabilities make it difficult to access buildings without features such as elevators or wheelchair ramps, especially those living in rent-controlled units not on the ground floor, as explained in an analysis of AB 1620. 

Whereas tenants in non-rent-controlled units can seek other private market options, rent-controlled tenants must choose between staying in such a situation or losing their rent cap with a new unit. In the past, tenants have sued for swaps under fair housing and disability access laws after denial from landlords to be moved to the ground floor. 

The Santa Monica Rent Control Board will consider amendments to local regulations, in advance of the bill’s effective date in January 2024, for qualifying residents. 

“In working with Assemblymember Zbur on the fine-tuning of the language, I was moved by his compassion for both renters and our senior and disabled residents in California,” Rent Control Board Chairperson Anastasia Foster said in a statement. “This common-sense amendment demonstrates the ability of tenant advocates and property owners to work together to help some of our most vulnerable.”

in Hard, News
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