Rent Control - History in The United States

History in The United States

In the United States during World War I, rents were "controlled" through the efforts of local rent anti-profiteering committees and public pressure. Between 1919 and 1924, a number of cities and states adopted rent and eviction control laws. Modern rent controls were first adopted in response to WWII-era shortages, or following Richard Nixon's 1971 wage and price controls. They remain in effect or have been reintroduced in some cities with large tenant populations, such as New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Oakland, California. Many smaller communities also have rent control, notably the California cities of Santa Monica, Berkeley, and West Hollywood, along with many small towns in New Jersey. In recent years, rent control in some cities, such as Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been ended by state referenda.

New York State has had the longest history of rent controls, since 1943. (Although only 51 communities currently participate in the state's program, New York City is one of them, and contains the vast majority of units covered by that program.) The period has been marked by the lack of an "adequate supply of decent... housing". The worsening in the rental market led to the enactment of the Rent Stabilization Law of 1969, which aimed to help increase the number of places put up for rent. The current system is very complicated, which is especially troublesome as most of the protected renters are elderly, and understanding the city's complex rent-control regulations is difficult even for experienced lawyers.

In California, municipal enactment of rent controls followed the statewide Proposition 13, which capped property tax increases; however, a principal author of Prop 13, Howard Jarvis, reportedly:

"was at the time employed by the Los Angeles Apartment Owners Association as a lobbyist. In a fundraising letter to the landlords that employed him, he claimed, 'We are the biggest losers' if Prop. 13 fails. (Not to mention: The Yes on 13 headquarters were located in a Los Angeles Apartment Owners Association office.) He tried to persuade renters to vote for Prop. 13 by saying it would drive down rents, by decreasing the property taxes that landlords paid. Post-13 news reports found rents weren’t going down, despite Jarvis’s promises – apparently landlords were just pocketing their property tax savings. That revelation prompted many of the rent controls still in effect around California."

San Francisco community activist Calvin Welch has stated “Jarvis was the father of rent control."

California adopted the Ellis Act giving municipalities the ability to regulate the removal of properties from rent control ordinance after the California Supreme Court ruled landlords could not be prevented from "going out of business" and withdrawing their properties from the rental market.

In some regions, rent control laws are more commonly adopted for mobile home parks. Reasons given for these laws include residents owning their homes (and renting the land), the high cost of moving mobile homes, and the loss of home value when they are moved. California, for example, has only 13 local apartment rent control laws but over 100 local mobile home rent control laws. No new mobile home parks have been built in California since 1991.

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