What is Rent Control?

Rent control refers to laws that limit the amounts of rent and the amounts that rent can be increased in any year. There is no statewide rent control in the US, and all the rent control laws and regulation are passed by cities. Most of the cities with rent control are located in New York, California, and New Jersey. Washington, D.C. also has rent control. State laws often affect City rent-control ordinances, so you should check both to find out about the law in your area.

In some places, like New York City, rent control and rent stabilization are different things and have different set of regulations. In other places, like Los Angeles, the two terms mean the same thing. Cities with rent control and/or rent stabilization usually have boards or agencies that enforce the laws and where both tenants and landlords can get information about their rights and responsibilities.

Rent control laws don’t just concern rent limits or rent increases. They usually also deal with the landlord’s responsibility to make repairs, lease renewals, evictions, and special rules for groups like senior citizens. In some cities senior citizens are protected from any rent increase, even when increases are allowed for younger tenants.

In places that don’t have rent control, if a landlord doesn’t make necessary repairs the tenant sometimes has to take the risk of paying for repairs and then withholding rent. The danger is that the landlord will try and evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent. In places with a rent control board or agency, the tenant usually doesn’t have to take that risk. The tenant can report the violation to the board or agency and ask for permission to withhold rent. In some cities, if the condition of a rental property is very bad, the board or agency can take over, collect the rents, and make repairs.

Because rent control sometimes ends or the rent can be raised when a tenant is evicted, landlords may abuse the right to evict tenants. Most cities that have rent control laws limit the reasons for an eviction. A landlord can’t give the tenant a 30-day or 60-day notice that the tenant must leave. The landlord must have a good reason for the eviction such as nonpayment of rent, breach of the rental agreement like pets that aren’t allowed, or illegal activity.

The broad powers of rent-control boards and agencies mean that many more issues and disputes about landlord-tenant issues are resolved in informal hearings instead of in courts during eviction proceedings. Some cities provide mediation services as well, to help landlords and tenants work out their differences.

Rent control laws were popular in the 1970s into the 1980s, but organized landlord opposition to the laws caused some of them to be repealed or weakened after the late 1980s. In the places where rent control still exists, it has usually been affected by two kinds of decontrol. The first is called vacancy decontrol, which means that when a tenant in a rent-controlled unit moves out the regulations concerning the unit change. This may mean that the unit is no longer controlled at all, that different control regulations apply, or that the landlord can raise the rent before the unit comes under rent control again. The other main form of decontrol is an exemption for new construction, usually defined as constructions later than the mid-1970s. Tenants of newer buildings in these cities have no rent-control protection.