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Protection for Tenants: Rent Control

To make housing affordable, the government can limit yearly rental increases. This article offers a brief overview of tenant rights and rent control within the contexts of:

  • Rent increase protections
  • Eviction protections
  • Landlord discrimination and retaliation

For related resources, visit our pages on Tenant Rights, Lease Agreement FAQs, and General Rent Increase Limits.

Overview of Rent Control

Over 200 cities in the United States impose rent control regulations on property owners who lease to renters. In some places, these protections even extend to people living in mobile home parks. But only a handful of states, such as California and Oregon, have mandated rent control under state law. In more than 30 states, though, local governments can't impose rent control regulations.

Almost all residential rental agreements must provide tenants with a habitable (safe and livable) dwelling unit. Cities and states commonly mandate that rental units have hot water and disclosures of hazards like lead-based paint. Under the Fair Housing Act, general principles require a landlord to rent to a person of any race, national origin, familial status, and so on. Also, all states regulate the eviction process, and a tenancy can't end prematurely without a court order.

But rental properties subject to rent control place strict mandates on landlords that go beyond the ordinary. Rent control ordinances are usually local laws that aim to:

  • Strengthen tenant protections by further limiting landlord rights
  • Stabilize local economies by maintaining occupancy rates
  • Create affordable housing for low-income families, seniors, and vulnerable people like domestic violence victims
  • Protect renters who are on fixed incomes
  • Limit eviction proceedings even after the end of a lease term

Some jurisdictions push these protections further by preventing eviction unless it is for cause. That means that even if a tenant is on a month-to-month lease, a landlord in a rent-controlled territory may not serve an eviction notice unless:

  • They have good cause, such as a tenant's material violation of the lease (e.g. withholding rent)
  • The tenants are not disabled, elderly, or suffering from an acute illness
  • You give a reasonable time beyond the end of the lease to vulnerable tenants to vacate

For example, in some localities, the law or a court order may force a landlord to give an older adult extra time to vacate. Even if a tenant is late on rent or stays beyond the lease term, rent control can prevent their speedy eviction.

Determining if Your Rental is Regulated

As mentioned, most states ban local rent control. But if you live in a densely populated metropolis, chances are that parts of your city may have a rent stabilization ordinance. The best way to determine if you have a regulated rental is to:

  1. Contact your city's local housing department or government-operated housing agency
  2. Read your rental agreement carefully to see if it has mandatory rent control disclosures
  3. Ask the neighbors in your community or common areas if they have any information about local rent control laws
  4. Search for rent control ordinances on your city or town's government websites
  5. Ask your landlord if they had to get a rent stabilization permit to rent out their property

Even if your rental property doesn't have rent control protections, you can still protect yourself through a written agreement. If your landlord is willing to negotiate, you can ask them to go above and beyond, providing you with habitable conditions. As a new tenant, you can customize your lease agreement to:

  • Have more flexible due dates for the monthly amount of rent due
  • Cut late fees and other penalties for unpaid rent in excusable circumstances
  • Increase the amount of time for the term of your lease
  • Demand 90-day notices or longer periods before effectuating monthly rent increases
  • Waive tenant responsibilities in special situations, including during sickness, incapacity, or work travel

Remember that a landlord must give you written notice in many situations anyway. Most states require landlords to give advance notice before increasing rent or asking you to vacate. But without rent control protections, you will have less flexibility to defend against a potential eviction. That's why a fair lease agreement is essential before you move in.

If Your Landlord is Violating Rent Control Ordinances

If you live in a unit with controlled rent, your landlord might still do you wrong. Proposed rent increases may exceed the cap allowed in your jurisdiction. This isn't always intentional, of course. Suppose you and your landlord discover later that an increase exceeded the limit after agreeing to the new rate. A friendly conversation with your landlord might be all you need to remedy the situation. It's also a good idea to communicate in writing and use certified mail to keep a record of conversations. After you confront them with the issue, your landlord may very well deduct whatever is necessary to stay within legal compliance.

But what if your landlord insists that the rent increase is legal? What if they threaten to penalize you for nonpayment of rent if you continue to pay a lower monthly rent? Here, you have a few options. You can:

Rental Increase Limits Even Without Rent Control

If your city doesn't have rent control, check to see if your state offers any protections. For example, while not all California cities have rent control, the California Tenant Protection Act places caps on certain properties. You may also have recourse under other state law or federal laws, including ones designed to:

Finally, consider consulting with a housing counselor. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides counseling services to renters. Counselors can advise on tenant rights, rent control issues, and more.

Facing Exorbitant Rent Increases? Talk to a Lawyer

Whether your rental unit is subject to rent control or not, you have legal rights. These rights include proper notice, state-level caps, and fair housing. If you're facing challenges with landlord-tenant laws, get legal advice from a real estate attorney. They can help you enforce your landlord's responsibilities and take legal action to protect your home. If you win your case, they might even be able to recover attorney fees.

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