Rent Control vs. Rent Stabilization: What Landlords Need to Know

Learn the history and nuances of rent control and rent stabilization policies, and the pros and cons for real estate investors.

By
Gemma Smith
|
Last Updated
April 26, 2023
Rent Control vs. Rent Stabilization: What Landlords Need to Know

Real estate investors who own rental properties must navigate a complex web of regulations and policies related to rent control and rent stabilization. 

These two policies are often interchangeably used but differ significantly in their goals, implementation, and effect.

As a real estate investor, it's essential to understand the differences between rent control and rent stabilization laws and how they can impact your investments. 

This article will provide a comprehensive overview of these policies, including their historical background, key features, and what each practice means for landlords. 

Understanding rent control and rent stabilization

Policies for rent control and rent stabilization are implemented to regulate the housing market and protect tenants from unaffordable rent increases. 

To understand the nuances of these policies, it's important to explore their historical context and key differences.

Rent control

Rent control laws aim to limit rent increases for certain rental units or properties. These laws usually target older buildings or units constructed before a specific date in high-demand urban areas.

They aim to protect tenants from rapidly rising rents and prevent displacement due to gentrification, and may also include provisions for just-cause eviction protections and other tenant rights.

Rent control laws vary by state, but they can range from prohibiting any rent increase during a tenancy, to limiting the amount of the rent increase. They may also be required to provide certain levels of maintenance and repair for the rental units. 

However, rent control is controversial, as it can limit landlords' ability to earn a fair return on their investments and may discourage new construction and investment in rental properties.

States where rent control laws are in effect

While most U.S. states have policies that effectively ban rent control, there are a few states and municipalities that implemented some rent control laws. As of 2023, Oregon is the only state with statewide rent control, and certain cities across California, New York, New Jersey, Maine, Minnesota, and Maryland — plus the District of Columbia — have rent control laws in place. New York City implemented a rent control program in the 1920s, which is still in effect today, albeit phased out in certain areas. 

Rent stabilization

Rent stabilization is a policy that regulates rent increases for specific rental units or properties. 

Unlike rent control laws, which impose strict limits on rent increases, rent stabilization policies allow landlords to raise rents by a certain percentage each year, usually based on the local inflation rate. Rent stabilization policies may also include provisions for just-cause eviction protections and other tenant rights.

Rent stabilization policies are often used in conjunction with other housing policies, such as affordable housing requirements and incentives for new construction. 

They aim to strike a balance between protecting tenants from rapidly rising rents and ensuring that landlords can earn a fair return on their investments. 

However, like rent control laws, rent stabilization policies can be controversial and may discourage new investment in rental properties.

Rent stabilization policies in the U.S. vary depending on the jurisdiction. For instance, New York State has a dedicated Office of Rent Administration that oversees and enforces these policies.

St. Paul, Minnesota, has also implemented comprehensive rent stabilization policies that extend to all residential rental units within its boundaries, while other cities have more restricted coverage.

History of rent control and rent stabilization

Rent control laws and rent stabilization policies have a long and complex history in the U.S. 

Rent control laws in the U.S. first became widespread during World War II to prevent landlords from taking advantage of housing shortages and charging exorbitant rents. 

These laws were later expanded in the 1970s and 1980s as a response to rising housing costs and concerns about gentrification.

Rent stabilization policies also emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a response to the growing demand for affordable housing and concerns about urban decay. 

These policies were initially focused on preserving existing rental units and preventing displacement, but they have since evolved to include a broader range of tenant protections and incentives for new construction.

Comparing rent control vs. rent stabilization

The key features of rent control laws and rent stabilization policies can vary widely depending on the jurisdiction and the specific policy in question. However, some common characteristics of each policy include the following:

Rent control:

  • Sets a cap on rent prices during a tenancy, or on the amount a landlord can charge for rent
  • Usually applies to specific types of housing, such as older buildings or apartments with a certain number of units
  • Often includes provisions for allowable rent increases, such as tying them to inflation or the cost of maintenance
  • Can be very restrictive, limiting a landlord's ability to evict tenants or make changes to the property

Rent stabilization:

  • Sets limits on rent increases, but these limits are typically more flexible than under rent control
  • Usually applies to a broader range of rental housing, including newer buildings and those with fewer units.
  • May include provisions for "vacancy decontrol," allowing landlords to raise rents to market rates after a tenant moves out
  • Often includes requirements for landlords to make certain repairs and upgrades to the property.
  • Can be more flexible than rent control but may still limit a landlord's ability to charge market rates or make changes to the property.

In terms of effectiveness, studies have shown that both policies can have mixed results. 

While rent control can provide short-term relief to tenants, it can also lead to reduced quality of housing stock and a decrease in new construction. 

Rent stabilization may be more effective in providing long-term affordability, but it can also result in landlords neglecting necessary repairs and maintenance if they cannot raise rents enough to cover those costs.

Pros and cons of rent control laws

Advantages of rent control laws include:

  • Provide affordable housing options for tenants, especially in cities with high housing costs. 
  • Can help prevent the displacement of long-term residents who may be unable to afford market-rate rents. 
  • Can provide stability for tenants, allowing them to plan for the future and make long-term investments in their communities.

However, rent control laws also have some disadvantages:

  • May discourage landlords from investing in rental properties, leading to a shortage of available units and potentially reducing the overall quality of the housing stock. 
  • May lead to a two-tiered rental market, with protected tenants enjoying lower rents while other tenants are forced to pay market-rate prices. 
  • Critics also argue that the laws can be challenging to administer and can sometimes lead to unintended consequences, such as reduced maintenance of rental units.

Pros and cons of rent stabilization

Unlike rent control laws, which typically place hard caps on rent increases, rent stabilization allows landlords to raise rents by a certain percentage each year. A local government agency typically determines the specific percentage increase. Some advantages are: 

  • Can provide landlords with some flexibility in setting rental rates while protecting tenants against sudden and dramatic rent increases. This can help prevent long-term resident displacement and ensure that rental housing remains affordable for many tenants. 
  • Can provide landlords with some predictability around their rental income, allowing them to plan for the future and make necessary investments in their properties.

However, rent stabilization policies also have some disadvantages: 

  • May not effectively control housing costs in rapidly growing or gentrifying neighborhoods. 
  • May discourage landlords from making necessary repairs or upgrades to their buildings, since they may not be able to pass on the costs of these improvements to tenants. 
  • Like rent control laws, critics argue that rent stabilization policies can also be challenging to administer and may lead to unintended consequences such as reduced investment in the housing market.

What rent control and rent stabilization mean for landlords 

From a landlord's perspective, the differences between rent control and rent stabilization can have significant implications. Rent control is a more extreme policy, limiting a landlord's ability to make a profit and discouraging investment in rental property. Rent stabilization may be viewed as a more reasonable compromise, allowing for rent increases while providing tenant stability.

Landlords may view rent control and rent stabilization laws as a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, rent control policies can limit the revenue landlords can generate from their rental properties, making it more difficult to have a profitable investment while covering operating costs, paying off mortgages, and making necessary building repairs and upgrades. 

On the other hand, these policies can provide stability for landlords, allowing them to count on a consistent stream of rental income and potentially reducing vacancy rates.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of either policy in achieving its goals may depend on the specific details of how they are implemented and enforced.

Rent control and rent stabilization in NYC

New York City is one of the most densely populated areas of the U.S., with a number of policies in place related to rent control and rent stabilization. Here are a few common questions about rent control in the Big Apple.

What is the difference between rent controlled and rent stabilized in NYC?

In New York City, rent control and rent stabilization serve as two distinct rent regulation systems. Rent control applies to buildings constructed before 1947, while rent stabilization generally covers buildings built after 1947 and before 1974 and apartments removed from rent control.

Unlike rent control, rent stabilization sets a maximum legal rent for each apartment based on its unique history. As a result, tenants in rent-stabilized units can expect their rent to increase only by a certain percentage each year, which limits landlords from imposing excessive rent hikes annually. When a rent-controlled unit is vacated, it becomes deregulated; however, a rent-stabilized apartment remains regulated even after a tenant moves out.

Is rent stabilization only in NYC?

Rent stabilization is not only in NYC. Cities and states with rent stabilization policies include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and more. In 2019, Oregon became the first state to adopt a statewide rent stabilization law.

However, most states have laws that either prohibit localities from passing rent policies or do not have rent control policies.

Rent control vs. stabilization final thoughts

Rent control and rent stabilization policies have a complex history and a range of pros and cons, including providing affordable housing options and tenant stability but potentially discouraging landlords from investing in rental properties and leading to a two-tiered rental market.

Overall, the effects of these policies on rental markets and individual investments will depend on the specifics of the policy and the local housing market. 

As such, real estate investors must stay informed and engage with policymakers to ensure that their investments can thrive within the regulations and policies of their local area.

Gemma Smith

With 7 years in property management, Gemma serves as a key content strategist at Azibo.com. While excelling in writing, editing, and SEO, she also enhances Azibo's social media presence. Passionately, Gemma educates others to make informed real estate investment decisions in the ever-changing market.

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