This article was posted on Monday, May 01, 2023

On February 14th, Valentine’s Day, the Apartment Association of Orange County sued the City of Santa Ana calling the city rent control policies an unconstitutional form of government intervention.  The city has enacted a local rent cap of 3% and they are developing a seven-member rental board which will have the authority to resolve tenant-landlord disputes outside of court.  The board would consist of three tenants, two councilors and two property owners. 

Santa Ana is also planning to enact new laws that will create a rental registry, which will serve as a database for city rentals and rent increases.  As part of the registry, property owners would be required to enroll their units each year and pay a fee for the registration.  This fee would be used to offset the operating costs of maintaining the registry.  In essence, housing providers would have an additional administrative burden, and have to pay for that privilege.  (Never mind the fact that they already pay property taxes to fund government programs and jobs.)   

Violation of the U.S. Constitution

The apartment association criticized the city’s rent control rules as examples of government overreach.  The suit alleges that Santa Ana’s rent control laws violate the 4th and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.  

The 14th Amendment contains the due process clause, and the lawsuit claims that Santa Ana’s Rental Housing Board will be a quasi-judicial body, which is intentionally designed to favor tenants over property owners.  The lawsuit states that “The rental housing board will not be a forum for fair adjudication of the petitions presented to it.” 

The suit also alleges that the 4th amendment rules against unlawful search, which would be violated by the city’s requirement that property owners enroll their buildings in a rental registry.  The lawsuit goes on to say that, “… the city’s rent control scheme [will] necessarily deprive property owners of a fair return on their investment – a standard that the United States and California Supreme Courts have consistently held to be a constitutional guarantee.” 

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City law limits rent increases to the lower of 3% per year, or 80% of the percent change in the Consumer Price Index over the most recent 12-month period.  This means that, at best, a property owner can expect to raise the rent to an amount that is 20% below inflation – so with each passing year, the owner’s income will inevitably be falling further and further behind with a negatively compounding effect. 

Robbing the American Dream

One of the most outspoken councilmembers, Thai Viet Phan, has highlighted the fact that she is the first Vietnamese councilmember in Santa Ana and that as someone whose family immigrated here with nothing, she is determined to champion rent control and fight against “greedy corporate landlords.”  

This is a blatant unfair characterization of housing providers and it’s also inaccurate, given that a large amount of the rental properties in Santa Ana are owned by small immigrant family businesses just trying to fulfill the American dream of property and business ownership. By crippling housing providers with unfair rent control laws, the government is robbing ALL Americans and immigrants of the American dream of creating wealth and a retirement income through rental property ownership. 

Councilmember Phan’s statement is both prejudiced and ignorant.  America is the land of opportunity, and who is the government to say that one business or as it is implied, one demographic, should be limited in its ability to make money.  In addition to the ignorant statements and short-sighted policy, Phan crossed an ethical line when she accepted campaign money from the Apartment Association of OC when she was seeking election and had pledged to fight rent control. 

When completing the Pacific West Association of Realtors’ candidate questionnaire, Phan was adamant in her opposition to rent control.  She wrote, “Rent control is an ineffective way of addressing housing affordability … housing affordability is better addressed via housing supply rather than artificial caps on the market.”


When I first got into real estate, all you needed was a strong work ethic and common sense. There wasn’t this cumbersome amount of government regulation and intervention.  Apartment ownership was a simple business for everyday people who were willing to save and live below their means so that they could one day have a better life.  A lease agreement was a two-page form that was easy to understand and protected the tenant AND the owner.   

Now common sense seems to have gone out the window and it has become a much more complicated business requiring a great deal of knowledge, a willingness to take on legal exposure that strongly favors tenants, and thanks to government intervention – a low return on your investment.  As more cities are considering adding a rental registry and more restrictive rent caps, I hope that they will see the negative effects this has on citizen business owners and realize that it’s best for everyone, including tenants, when property owners are allowed the freedom to run their business as they see fit. 

If you would like to learn about unique tax deferred cash-out options, or if you would like help with buying, selling or performing a 1031 exchange, I’m happy to help! I can be reached at 714.330.9999, [email protected], or you can visit my website at  I’m Mercedes Shaffer, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker, helping you build wealth one door at a time.  DRE 02114448.