Rent Control Definition and Laws
One of the most sought-after gems for renters is a rent-controlled property. Rent control allows existing tenants to live in their neighborhoods without the threat of unaffordable rent increases. Not all states have rent control laws, and rent-controlled jurisdictions are becoming harder to find. Some landlords may be looking to bend rent control laws so they can get new tenants and raise the rent prices.
Rent control is generally based on state, county, and city laws. If you have questions about rent control in your area, talk to a local landlord-tenant attorney for advice about tenant rights and local rent control laws.
Rent control laws set limits on how much landlords may charge for rent. Rent control is intended to keep rental rates affordable in rental markets with high market prices. Rent control laws generally specify:
- Which types of properties qualify for rent control.
- How often rent limits may be adjusted.
- How rental price ceilings may be adjusted.
- Conditions for when a real estate is “decontrolled.”
- Restrictions on evicting tenants with rent control.
Most rent control laws tie annual rent increases to an annual percentage of inflation based on a local Consumer Price Index.
There are no federal rental price control laws, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that rent regulation is a state matter. Most states have deregulated statewide rent control laws. Only a select number of cities and communities in a handful of states still enforce it.
Only California and Oregon have statewide rent control. Other states with county and city rent control laws include Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Washington D.C. Some of the largest cities with rent control laws include New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. While there may be state rent control laws, rent control rules and regulations vary by city and county.
Rent control laws were adopted in the United States during World War II when the nation was experiencing a housing shortage. President Richard Nixon later passed wage and price laws that influenced the modern rent control laws still in use today. That’s why most rent control protections tend to apply to older properties constructed before the 1980s.
Historically, many California cities have had their own rent control laws and regulating bodies since the 1970s. Some of the bigger California cities that had rent control ordinances included:
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
- San Jose
In 2019, both California and Oregon passed statewide rent control laws. Under California’s Tenant Protection Act, there is a limit on annual rental increases of 5% plus a cost of living adjustment of up to 5%. Landlords have limited options for evicting tenants who have lived in the rent-controlled unit for over a year. However, some types of newer properties, duplexes, and single-family homes may be exempt from rent control regulations.
New York’s Office of Rent Administration regulates rent control for every county with qualifying residencies. New York’s rent control ordinances are among the oldest in the country and date back to World War II. Generally, buildings constructed before 1947 and tenants or lawful successors who have resided in their homes since before July 1971 have rent control.
Rent control ordinances only apply to select neighborhoods in:
- New York City
- Albany County
- Erie County
- Nassau County
- Rensselaer County
- Schenectady County
- Westchester County
The District of Columbia’s Rental Housing Act of 1985 and the Rental Accommodations Division regulate rent control for all properties in the district. Some properties are exempt from rent control, including properties that:
- Were built after 1975
- Were vacant when the Act took effect on July 17, 1985
- Are owned by a person (and not a business entity) who owns four or fewer rental units
- Are subsidized by the district or the federal government
- Are classified as housing accommodations under a building improvement plan approved by the Department of Housing and Community Development
New Jersey has no state laws that regulate rent control. However, under its Newly Constructed Multiple Dwellings Law, new construction multi-home buildings in municipalities with rent control ordinances are exempt from rent control until 30 years (at most) have passed.
New Jersey has more than 100 municipalities that enforce their own rent control ordinances, including:
- Atlantic City
- Jersey City
Maryland has no state rent control laws or a rent control regulating body. Takoma Park is the only city in Maryland that still enforces rent regulation—and only in the form of rent stabilization. Takoma Park’s rent stabilization ordinance is similar to rent control except that it doesn’t provide special eviction restrictions nor conditions for when a property loses its rent stabilization status.
Generally, rent stabilization applies to all rental properties in Takoma Park except for those in which the property owner occupies a unit as their primary residence. The city publishes an annual rent stabilization allowance every year in late spring. The allowance sets a maximum rent rate that may be charged based on the yearly increase of the Washington/Baltimore region’s Consumer Price Index.
Rent control laws can be tricky to work around. You could unknowingly make your rental property decontrolled or face legal eviction. Whether you’re moving into a rent-controlled apartment or have a rent control dispute with your landlord, consult with an experienced landlord-tenant lawyer to protect your rights and interests.