Rent Control is Spreading, But its Side Effects Could, Too

The idea of rent control may be making more headlines lately, but it’s far from a new idea. The history of rent control in America dates to World War I, where, between 1919 and 1924, several cities and states adopted the policies. Rent control was also widespread during the Great Depression and World War II-era housing shortages, though not all states adopted it. During recessionary times in the 1970s, rent control resurfaced, and President Nixon even briefly implemented national wage and price controls to battle hyperinflation.

New York has the longest history of rent control, with some policies dating to 1943. New York City passed the Rent Stabilization Law of 1969, which created a complicated system that covered most rental units. Since then, there have been several changes to that law that have either strengthened or undermined it. New York state lawmakers expanded rent control to cover other municipalities in 2019. California also has a long history of rent control, with many policies enacted during the high inflation of the 1970s.

As much as rent control seems increasingly common today, relatively few U.S. cities and states allow it. As of 2022, six states and Washington, D.C., have localities where some form of residential rent control is in effect. Thirty-one states either pre-empt or prohibit rent control, and seven states allow cities to enact the policies but have no cities that have done so. Cities with rent control often have laws that cover much of the rental unit stock.

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