What are Rent Control Laws?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Rent control laws are variable laws determining when or how it is legal for property owners to raise rents. There are many countries and cities that have extensive forms of rent control, where raising rent is only done in tiny increments, if done at all, to provide a near fixed price for the tenant. Other laws don’t restrict landlords from raising the rent, but do set forth some conditions under which prices can and can’t be raised. There are both supporters and detractors of these laws.

Rent control laws regulate how and when it is legal for property owners to raise rent prices.
Rent control laws regulate how and when it is legal for property owners to raise rent prices.

Rent control laws are in place to control the rental market to a certain degree and to stabilize prices. This is not always the result, because landlords may have huge flexibility when setting new prices on vacant property. Yet, over time, if a new tenant stays in the property and rental cost is strictly controlled, price does tend to become standardized and aren’t subject to huge increases.

In some of the most rigid rent control laws, landlords literally can’t raise rent, which has some potentially positive effects for both the tenant and the landlord. It keeps people in the same location because if they move, they face potentially huge increases in their housing costs. It also induces some tenants to spend their own money for home improvements, since this makes more economic sense than moving.

On the negative side, people avoid moving, which means available rental properties are scarce. Additionally, landlords usually aren’t restricted in renting at a higher price and this means available rentals are more expensive expensive. There can exist great disparity between the rent a person who has been living in the same place for 20 years pays, and the rent someone will pay if they rent an apartment in the present. Such a situation commonly exists in places like New York City, where there are rigid rent control laws.

Other places allow certain rent control laws that are not so rigid. Such laws might forbid landlords from raising the rent if tenants ask for a needed repair. Laws might also govern procedure that must be undertaken if a landlord intends to raise the rent. For instance, a law could specify how much notice landlords must given tenants. There may be additional provisions like percentage at which rent can be raised in a given year. Other things rent control laws might govern include legality of demanding deposits or first/last month’s rent.

Some landlords are deeply opposed to rigid or even more flexible rent control laws because they impose limits on the way landlords can use their property. For renters, these laws are typically favored, since they provide some protection against illegal actions of landlords. These laws are not equal in all jurisdictions, may apply only to certain types of property such as apartments or mobile home space, and aren’t always fully enforced. People planning to rent are wise to look up any resources for renters and understand full rights and responsibilities given by rent control laws, if any exist.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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