The small, affluent city of South Pasadena has become the latest battleground over skyrocketing rents in Southern California.
The city council this week launched an ad hoc committee to investigate whether the city should enact a rent control ordinance. The decision came after a group of local residents from two neighboring apartment complexes launched a campaign to protest their landlord imposing a nearly 50 percent rent increase.
The leader of the campaign, Samantha Dorman, said if the city council does not act soon, the group will begin gathering signatures to put rent control before the city's voters next year in a special election.
"The increase of almost 50 percent, I just don't see how that should be legal," said Dorman. "It's basically being evicted from our place. I don't think landlords should be able to raise the rent by that amount."
Dorman was one of about 100 residents who received 60-day notices of rent increases on Sept. 30 after their building was sold to a new owner. Her rent went from $1300 to $1895 for their two-bedroom apartments. The residents also complained about unsafe living conditions – rats, cockroaches, mold, and plumbing and electrical problems.
In a letter to the city council, the buildings' owner, Jerry Wise, defended the rent increase as reasonable for the area and said the money is needed to update the buildings.
"The complex has been somewhat neglected over the years, and is in need of significant upgrades and maintenance, which we intend to perform over the next several months," Wise wrote. "The asking rent for similar buildings on Raymond Hill and the surrounding areas ranges from a low of $2,100 to a high of $2,500 per month."
The average two-bedroom in South Pasadena is $2,840, up from $2,297 two years ago, according to Zillow.
The ad hoc committee will report back to the full council in two weeks, but South Pasadena Mayor Diana Mahmud said it will likely take much longer for the council to take any action.
"It's a really complex issue," she said.
Mahmud said she is conflicted, seeing on the one hand that landlords depend on rental income to keep up their properties, and on the other hand wanting to keep South Pasadena a diverse community, especially for families attracted there by some of the highest-performing schools in Southern California.
"Parents have told us they chose South Pasadena specifically for its economic diversity," said Mahmud.
Dorman, who is a single mother, may not have to wait for the council or a ballot measure. She and other tenants met with the property manager this week and hammered out a tentative compromise.
“He’s willing to work with us, and it’s really good news," she said.
Either way, her campaign will continue.
“It’s not just our complex," she said. "People across the city are dealing with increases."