As rent control expands, what’s next for New York


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The Twin Cities made history Tuesday as the first in the Midwest to adopt rent control.

In Saint-Paul, a new law will cap annual rent increases at 3%, applicable to all buildings. In Minneapolis, voters have authorized their city council to draft a rent control ordinance – details to come.

Minnesota’s measures are among the boldest in the country, experts say, and follow a trail of tenant-friendly housing policies enacted in recent years. New York stepped up tenant protection in 2019, Oregon adopted rent control in the same year, and California followed suit in 2020.

In New York City, eviction for good reasons is the order of the day, a bill that the real estate industry sees as “universal rent control” because it would protect tenants from eviction if their landlord increased the rent by more than 3%, or 1.5% of inflation, whichever is higher.

Advocates of the tenant program in New York see momentum that could increase the chances of a good cause through when the legislature meets next year.

Joseph Loonam from VOCAL-NY

“The national trend towards greater protections is really encouraging,” said Joseph Loonam, housing campaign coordinator at VOCAL-NY, a statewide community organizer who lobbies for Good Cause.

Loonam said he viewed Minnesota’s results as a sign that voters across the country are “waking up to power imbalances between landlords and tenants,” he said the pandemic has exposed.

While pandemic-induced unemployment made it difficult for some tenants to rent, a hot housing market subsequently pushed rents to record highs, adding further pressure. For their part, landlords argued that missed rents, exacerbated by moratoriums on evictions, also hit them hard.

A handful of New York City municipalities have adopted a good cause this year, which Loonam says is further proof that sympathy for the plight of tenants is spreading.

“People really want legislation like this,” Loonam said. “They want more protections for tenants; they want more security in their homes.

In St. Paul, voters passed rent control by a modest majority – 53 percent. However, the tenant side victory came despite a $ 4 million opposition campaign, the Minnesota Reformer reported. The rent control campaign raised $ 200,000.

The policies came on the heels of an incredibly tight year for affordable housing in the Twin Cities. Vacancy rates have fallen to a national low, the Star Tribune reported, and record home prices pushed rents up 4.5% in the 12 months ending in August.

Loonam sees a similar “dire situation in New York”, where the state’s rent assistance fund is wiped out and the eviction ban is roughly 10 weeks old. He hopes New York lawmakers will also turn to more permanent policies to help tenants.

“The good cause would provide essential protections to prevent a massive wave of evictions,” he said. (Nearly one million units across the state, including more than 900,000 in New York City, are already rent-regulated, and tenants who don’t violate their leases get a guaranteed renewal.)

Andrea Shapiro of Met Council on Housing

Andrea Shapiro of Met Council on Housing

Andrea Shapiro, director of programs and policy at the Met Council on Housing, said tenant gains in Minneapolis and St. Paul are proof that rent controls can keep tenants in their homes, especially tenants in their homes. color and low-income renters, who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

“I think it also shows that the good cause is not as radical a bill as some lawmakers claim,” she said.

Because good cause is a court defense against eviction, not a law that would be enforced by a state agency, Shapiro said it was not about rent control.

However, researchers are less inclined to view Minnesota’s votes on rent control as a sign that tenant-friendly policies are on the rise.

“It’s hard to say, on average, in which direction we’re heading,” said Christina Stacy, senior research associate at the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute. “There are certainly states where there isn’t a lot of protections for tenants and where landlords have a lot of control, and there are others where tenants have more control.”

New York’s Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, 2019, for example, gave stabilized tenants in New York City substantial leverage over their landlords, preventing almost any means for a landlord to take a home out of the way. stabilization or increase rents by more than a few percentages. points.

Meanwhile, Arkansas, ranked last in the country for tenant protection by RentCafe, allows landlords to terminate a tenant’s lease just five days after the rent is due, with no warning required.

Rent control, Stacy noted, is not a comprehensive solution to affordability problems.

Christina Stacy of the Urban Institute

Christina Stacy of the Urban Institute

Stacy said rent regulations in many places still allow vacation deregulation, in which a landlord can increase a home’s rent at market rates if a tenant vacates the home. The policy opens the door to harassment from tenants, such as shutting down utilities, to force them to leave.

The 2019 New York law eliminated most deregulation options as well as the 20% rent stabilization rent hike for vacant homes.

More complex rent control structures, such as those that include politically appointed bodies – the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, for example – can push tenants to seek more protection against increases. (Landlords, for their part, say council doesn’t allow rents to keep pace with their spending.)

Economists warn of the unintended consequences of rent controls – that in St. Paul, for example, it could push landlords to convert rentals into condos or discourage rental housing construction, exacerbating the housing shortage. They say it can deter landlords from maintaining and modernizing their buildings, leading to a deterioration in housing stock, and that it is not targeting benefits to tenants most in need.

Still, Stacy sees the spread of the good cause in New York and measures in other states as a sign that tenants are gaining an edge, albeit a slight one. But she noted that tenant advocates’ sense of progress varies depending on who you talk to.

“Even with these rent control laws or the reforms that have taken place in the recent past,” she said, “it seems tenant advocates aren’t always very happy with where they are. have landed. “

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