Apartment building
An apartment building in San Diego. File photo

We often hear a narrative that landlords and tenants are on opposite sides. We also hear that tenants need protection from landlords. Landlords are framed as the Big, Bad Wolf — viewed as faceless corporations that don’t care about anything but their bottom line. Indeed, that paints an ugly picture — but it’s not an accurate one.

That negative framing of landlords is at the root of new California laws like Assembly Bill 1482, which creates rent control and new rules for terminating tenancies.

The truth is that much of our industry is made up of small independent owners and managers. In fact, 78.4% of the Southern California Rental Housing Association’s members are independent rental owners. These properties are owned by families, by women, by people of different ethnic backgrounds and faiths. They are owned and managed by small businesses doing their best to keep their residents happy and their investments well maintained.

As owners, managers and suppliers, we reflect the community at large because we are a part of the community at large. We work long, hard hours and sacrifice to provide for our families and for our future or current retirement.

The narrative among some elected officials is that tenants and landlords are on opposite sides, that residents benefit whenever government places more restrictions on landlords. This is simply not true. There are no sides in the housing crisis; it is not a case of “haves” versus “have nots.” Our relationship is symbiotic.

Unfortunately, when a new restriction forces more independent property owners and small businesses out of the industry, it is often residents who end up paying higher rents. Studies and reports conclude that the primary reason why housing in California is so unaffordable is due to its complicated and onerous laws and regulations. Yet somehow, some legislators still believe the solution to California’s housing supply problem is to lean in with even more legislation.

Let’s explore the assumption that all residents must be protected from landlords. What about the good residents who comply and follow the rules but must deal with those who don’t? As tenant protections stack up, they make it harder and more costly for landlords to deal with renters who don’t play by the rules.

As one example, what protections do good residents receive if a landlord is forced to keep a bad resident on the property? Many of us have experienced living near someone who leaves garbage stacked up in common areas, blasts loud music all night, or has raucous parties on the property. Excessive regulations make it harder to address these issues and hold those tenants accountable.

A vocal minority is dominating the public discourse on this issue. The balance in California is tilting too far in favor of some Californians at the expense of many others. Legislators need to realize the laws they enact often produce unintended consequences that compound the existing problem.

For example, AB 1482 caps annual rent increases. Today, many owners make a choice to keep rents stable for quality, long-term tenants. They prioritize the long-term relationship over short-term cash gains. But owners are actively dis-incentivized to invest in relationships with longstanding tenants under AB 1482, which penalizes them for keeping rates the same with a use-it-or-lose-it scenario.

We are not opposed to regulation, but we will not support regulations that hurt our industry and make California’s housing crisis worse. California needs a system that is equitable for everyone and does not pick a side. Elected officials need to understand how their decisions also impact good residents, independent rental owners, and small management companies before they vote, not after the damage is done.

We need more housing for all Californians. We need subsidized housing, and we also need market-rate housing that is affordable for middle-income Californians. Rather than discouraging these types of housing development, legislators should instead consider ways to help defray the added cost whenever a new regulation goes into effect. Now is our opportunity tell them why they need to change their view of our industry and help find equitable solutions so all Californians can find an affordable place to call home.

Kendra Bork is the 2020 president of the San Diego-based Southern California Rental Housing Association.