Apartments in Mission Valley. Photo by Chris Stone
Apartments in Mission Valley. Photo by Chris Stone

As a rental housing provider, I see my role as more than providing four walls and a roof. It’s about creating a sense of community for residents and neighborhoods through quality rental housing.

This value led to my involvement with SCRHA, the Southern California Rental Housing Association, which played a critical role shaping the city of San Diego’s new Tenant Protection Ordinance that just went into effect on June 24.

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Championed by Mayor Todd Gloria and Council President Sean Elo-Rivera and crafted in coordination with rental providers and tenant advocates, the ordinance is an example of the collaboration necessary for sensible policymaking, something other cities should emulate.

Housing policy is complex. Success requires listening to diverse voices and engaging in tough debates. Crafting San Diego’s ordinance required a delicate balancing act: safeguarding responsible renters while protecting our limited rental housing stock, the lack of which is placing a unique strain on existing rentals. The existing rental stock alone cannot solve all of the city’s housing challenges.

Contrary to some narratives, most housing providers do not treat their investment as a commodity, but it is nevertheless a small business. Unfortunately, “mom and pop” providers are increasingly buckling under growing financial and regulatory pressures, sometimes forcing them to sell their units to avoid bankruptcy. While some bemoan large investors buying up rentals, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when small owners are pushed out of the market, impacting lower-and-middle-income renters the most.

That’s why the city’s collaborative approach was essential. The SCRHA, while on the front lines of these discussions, represented rental providers’ concerns. Although not all were fully addressed, most were incorporated or provisions improved to avoid negative consequences on rental housing availability.

The final ordinance language brings San Diego into greater consistency with state law, increasing protections for renters, especially those who are elderly and disabled. The promise to revisit means-based testing for relocation assistance, ensuring those who truly need it are the ones receiving it, is a welcome commitment from the city.

One of the more nuanced aspects of the ordinance, expected to go into effect next summer, is a requirement for rental providers to report all “at-fault” and “no-fault” terminations to the San Diego Housing Commission. Implementation was extended to allow the SDHC to set up a reporting portal and secure staffing support. However, as the city puts this requirement into practice, there are important factors to be considered.

First, the process should be user-friendly, so it doesn’t impact time-sensitive situations, like when a safety hazard requires urgent relocation for long-term remediation. The process should also be intuitive, so providers can comply quickly and proceed with giving renters as much notice as possible to accommodate their relocation needs.  

Secondly, there’s the issue of privacy, particularly for those facing at-fault terminations, the causes of which can span from non-payment of rent to unlawful activity. Creating a new public record of these situations could inadvertently hurt more than help.

People make mistakes, learn, and improve. However, added public exposure could exacerbate an already challenging situation for these renters, instead of providing support to improve their circumstances. The city should proceed carefully when walking the delicate line between transparency and privacy.

Moreover, what will city leaders do with this information? One of the stated goals is to help craft future policy and direct resources, which housing providers welcome to better assist residents who negatively impact their neighbor’s lives. Ultimately, this data should not be used to target individual housing providers trying to protect other residents’ right to a quiet environment.

Overall, the ordinance is meant to help renters without hurting rental housing availability, and it’s important it accomplishes this. Thought-leadership is not an easy undertaking, but a necessity for the success of our community.

Navigating such intricacies is no small task, but the collaborative approach taken by the city is commendable. While the ordinance is not a panacea to our many housing issues, such collaboration should continue to be the standard when crafting policy with the goal of a more inclusive, sustainable housing market.

The art of compromise does not lie in universal satisfaction but in ensuring all voices are heard. As a housing provider, I am proud that SCRHA was an integral part of this process.

The “landlord-tenant relationship” is a symbiotic one. Simply put, one can’t exist without the other. The goal should always be to create an environment where providing quality housing is incentivized and renters feel protected and valued.

Lucinda A. Lilley is an experienced property management professional, past president of the Southern California Rental Housing Association and CEO of real estate consulting firm Bridging Influence.