In order to prevent the cost of rental housing from skyrocketing, local governments may institute rent control regulations.
Without rent control, rental prices in some cities can be, as former New York City mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan eloquently put it, "too damn high." Though as it turns out, McMillan's rent was actually pretty low: He was recently evicted from an East Village apartment he was renting for well under the market rate, thanks in part to New York City's rules for rental units. (McMillan also maintains another apartment in Brooklyn which he reportedly occupies rent-free in exchange for performing maintenance.)
So what is rent control, and what does it actually do?
Rent Control Explained
Rent control regulations generally restrict the ability of landlords to raise the rent on certain types of rental units. Rent control rules also typically restrict the ability of landlords to evict tenants who continue to pay rent on time.
Rent control rules vary by jurisdiction. In New York, for example, apartments that have been occupied by a tenant continuously prior to July 1, 1971, in a building built before February 1, 1947, are subject to rent control. Apartments in buildings built before January 1, 1974, with six or more housing units are subject to similar restrictions called rent stabilization.
What's the Difference Between Rent Stabilization, Rent Control?
In McMillan's case, the apartment he was evicted from was not subject to rent control, but rather was subject to rent stabilization. Although the two are similar, the owners of rent-controlled apartments are generally more restricted in their ability to raise the rent than those with rent-stabilized apartments.
Another key difference between the two is that rent-controlled apartment leases can only be passed to a direct family member. This has led to a number of bizarre and sometimes illegal schemes by those seeking to avail themselves of the low rents required by rent control. In one case, a 62-year-old New York woman was legally adopted by an 85-year-old tenant of a rent-controlled unit in order to take over his rent-controlled apartment.
If you have questions about rent control, a landlord-tenant lawyer can explain the laws in your city. You can also learn more about your rights as a renter at FindLaw's section on Tenant Rights.