Before throngs of rental housing professionals headed to the state Capitol, the Capitol’s top elected official headed to them.

For more than 30 minutes Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown captivated a crowd at the Sacramento Convention Center, telling stories about his wide-ranging political history, offering observations about current challenges in California government and looking ahead to a possible fourth term as governor.

Brown served as keynote speaker at the California Apartment Association’s annual Legislative Conference. He and Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, delivered talks that primed the crowd for an afternoon of meetings with legislators on bills important to the rental housing industry.

Although references to enemies may be hyperbole, CAA does have passionate political opponents when it comes to the Ellis Act.

Appearing in a black suit with a red pinstripe shirt, Brown received a standing ovation as he approached the CAA podium.

The governor wished the audience good luck in its day of lobbying and reflected on the countless ideas, pressures and forces at work under the Capitol dome.

“In one sense you have to gird yourself for battle, because right now, in another room, your enemies are meeting,” Brown said, prompting laughter from the crowd. “And their interests are not your interests, and therein lies the art of government.”

Although references to enemies may be hyperbole, CAA does have passionate political opponents when it comes to the state’s Ellis Act – a key topic on participants’ itineraries for meetings with lawmakers.

The state law, which took effect in 1985, defends a landlord’s right to quit the rental housing business. This is especially useful in rent-controlled communities where landlords find themselves in financial turmoil – or simply need to move their families into one of their units.

The Ellis Act, however, is under attack. Sen. Mark Leno’s SB 1439 would let San Francisco require landlords to hold a rental property for five years before taking it off the rental market – a provision that’s piqued the interest of Los Angeles. Another bill, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s AB 2405, as originally written, would have placed Ellis Act evictions in the civil court system, where they could languish for years. CAA, however, succeeded Wednesday, April 23, in removing this and several other harmful provisions from AB 2405. Today, April 29, CAA derailed the bill after Ammiano, despite indications otherwise last week, refused to remove credit protections for tenants who lose eviction battles in court.

While it goes without saying that CAA wants landlords to stay in rental housing, a property owner’s ability to close up shop is a basic property right and must be protected.

And the Legislature has other options to address California’s affordable housing needs, such as the CAA-sponsored Renters’ Tax Assistance Act, which would reintroduce a tax credit to low-income California renters, a benefit renters haven’t enjoyed since 2008.

AB 2175, authored by Daly and Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, would provide a credit of between $250 and $348 per year, based on household income – a sensible example of helping California tenants during a time of increasing costs of living, said Shant Apekian, CAA’s vice president of public affairs.

“It’s not all about regulating rent or finding onerous ways to go after property owners,” Apekian said, “but really trying to find ways to help tenants in more creative ways.”

Great concern for our industry

Ben Lamson, founding partner at Bluestar Properties in Victorville, got to talk about AB 2175 during visits to five lawmaker offices Tuesday afternoon.

Lamson, who’s attended the Legislative Conference since 2004, said he especially enjoyed the sit-down with Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills. Along with his chief of staff, Hagman met with the CAA group for nearly 30 minutes, discussing bills opposed by the rental housing industry – and those that CAA supports.

“He had several questions about them but thought they were all important bills,” Lamson said, adding that Hagman showed particular interest in the CAA-sponsored Renters’ Tax Assistance Act.

In addition to discussing rental housing legislation, Lamson and his colleagues got to hear Hagman’s perspectives on state government and a about how his own business interests align with CAA’s.

“He shared his personal view of politics in Sacramento and the economic condition of California,” Lamson said. “His family owns over 1,000 rental units in California, so he has great concern for our industry.”