In the City of Burbank, California, where well over 50% of the population lives in rental housing, a measure on the November 3, 2020 ballot proposing an extremely strict rent control program was bound to be contentious. It sought severe restrictions on allowable annual rent increases, imposition of just cause eviction, mandatory tenant relocation compensation, and the creation of an autonomous Commission with the ability to establish its own budget. The Burbank Association of REALTORS® responded by gathering a strong coalition to oppose the measure, and with help from the REALTOR® Party, conducted a powerful campaign to protect the rights of property owners.
“Not only does rent control threaten private property rights, but such excessive regulation also discourages badly needed housing production here in Southern California,” explains Harry Timuryan, 2017 President of the 790-member association, and the current chair of its Legislative Committee. The REALTORS® are sensitive to the status of renters, he notes, especially during the pandemic, but the fact is that California’s 2020 rent-control legislation, AB1482, covers all local municipalities that don’t have tenant protections of their own – including the City of Burbank. Also alarming was the measure’s estimated annual cost of $6+million, and the city’s significant legal liability, if enacted. Not surprisingly, the whole City Council was against the plan. “We had very good reasons for opposing this sweeping rent control measure,” says Timuryan. “We just had to communicate them to our voters.”
The Burbank Association of REALTORS® hired a local campaign coordinator and formed a coalition with the California Apartment Association, the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, and numerous individual apartment owners. The vision, explains Timuryan, was to demonstrate to the public how the proposed measures would affect not only corporate landlords, but a majority of ‘mom-and-pop’ apartment owners, as well. A poll at the outset of the effort showed the concept of rent control testing at 70% citywide, with 44% strongly supporting the concept; this polling helped the group craft its key arguments and identify its target audience of Burbank residents and property owners, a universe of roughly 55,000 voters in 32,000 households. The campaign was funded by contributions from the coalition members, and augmented by an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party secured by the Burbank Association. Through a dedicated website, digital advertising, phone banks, local cable television ads, ten direct mail pieces shipping over a thirty-day period, and even very careful, socially distanced door-to-door canvassing, the campaign alerted voters to the proposed ballot measure and how they’d be affected.
The word-of-mouth and social media component was very strong, says Timuryan. “For two days straight, every member of the Legislative Committee posted on social media, contacting all of our clients, and our clients’ clients, in the City of Burbank. You know how extensive REALTORS®’ networks are!” REALTOR® members were already well aware of rent control issues, as they’d been cropping up in the surrounding regions for some time; the biggest classes the association offers – often with 100-200 members in attendance – are those dealing with landlord/tenant issues. For Timuryan, protection of property rights is personal: as an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, where there was no such thing as personal property, he saw first-hand how much it meant to his hard-working parents to be able to buy a house. “My parents would say, ‘We need to own a piece of The American Dream.’ It made a deep impression on me, and those rights can’t be taken for granted,” he says.
In the end, the rent control measure was rejected by 64% of the vote. Says Timuryan, “We just bombarded our voters with point-by-point arguments against each component. We like to think of Burbank as ‘Mayberry in LA,’ a small city with great schools and programs and well-maintained parks and swimming pools, and this new $6 million regulatory project was going to have to be paid for by sacrificing the majority of those great city services. The city is already operating under a budget deficit, so the residents just weren’t having it.”
To learn more about how the Burbank Association of REALTORS® is protecting private property rights in the City of Burbank, contact Legislative Committee Chair Harry Timuryan at Info@burbankrealtors.org or 818.845.7644.