CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reference the substantial remodel loophole in the California Tenant Protection Act. (Nov. 8, 2023)


LOS ANGELES — An unprecedented effort to remove gas-powered appliances from California's apartment buildings could lead to a wave of evictions and rent hikes, according to a new report from SAJE.

What You Need To Know

  • Starting in 2024, California will implement the $1 billion Equitable Building Decarbonization Program to remove gas-powered appliances from low- and moderate-income households

  • The program is part of a larger statewide effort to cut 85% of greenhouse gas emissions from across the state by the year 2045

  • The City of Los Angeles is expected to roll out a similar decarbonization ordinance by 2024, that will have a goal of removing gas-powered appliances from residential and commercial buildings by the year 2050

Strategic Actions for a Just Economy policy directors say while the program is needed to combat climate change, it may have an unintended impact on the state's housing crisis — including in Los Angeles, where lawmakers expect to roll out a decarbonization policy by next year. The goal is to have zero-carbon apartments by the year 2050.

As it stands, tenants who fall under California's Tenant Protection Act are subject to a legal loophole called the "substantial remodel loophole," which puts them at risk of eviction. 

Some tenants are already experiencing this, including Maria de Lourdes Mata, who has lived in the same two-bedroom apartment unit in Echo Park for nearly 35 years.

"All my children have grown up here, all my grandchildren," she says in Spanish. "We have lived here as if it is our house."

But soon, Mata may have to leave the decades of memories she's made at her apartment behind as she faces an eviction notice from her landlord, who plans to make significant renovations to the building.

The changes include remodeling the kitchens and bathrooms, changing the flooring, and installing new appliances. The landlord says the work can't be done with tenants on-site and will take over 30 days.

When she saw the eviction notice on her door, she thought, "My world ended. Where am I going to go?" Mata said. 

The decarbonization program is part of a statewide effort to cut 85% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. According to Chelsea Kirk, who authored the SAJE report, "Buildings are an important component of this plan because they are responsible for 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions across the state."

"So, this transition is very needed. California and LA specifically feel the climate crisis really intensely, right? It's getting hotter. We're seeing more and more wildfires. We're seeing floods now," Kirk said.

But she says removing gas appliances from residential buildings is expensive, costing about $20,000 per unit on average. It could lead to substantial rent increases if landlords don't want to absorb those costs on their own.

In the worst-case scenario, it could lead to evictions for low-income tenants who aren't protected under LA's Rent Stabilization Ordinance but instead fall under the state's tenant protection act.

Kirk is hoping more cities across California can close this legal loophole before the decarbonization effort is underway because while the climate crisis is severe, she hopes an effort to tackle it doesn't end up exacerbating the state's housing crisis as well.