One of my coworkers mentioned he lives in a rent-controlled apartment on the westside of LA, but when I signed the lease at my current place (I live a few miles down the road) it wasn’t mentioned. My lease is gonna run out in a few months and I’m worried about the landlord increasing my rent. If it goes up too much I’ll have to find a new place to live. Is there some way I can find out if this place is rent-controlled?
Full Question and Answer
Only five states have rent control: California, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. Even within those states, you have to live within the city or county limits of a place with a rent control statute. As you mentioned, some Southern California cities have rent control, including Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and West Hollywood. So your first step is to double check your address and make sure you live in the city limits. Easy peasy.
From there, whether your specific apartment is rent-controlled depends on the local statute itself. Most rent control statutes exempt newer buildings, single family homes, and buildings with only three or four units. If you live in an area with rent control, and your building was built in the early ‘70s at the latest, it might fall under rent control. No, it’s not enough that your apartment has green shag carpet the color of baby snot that looks like it’s been around since the ‘70s—we’re talking about the construction of the building itself, here.
Most areas also have exemptions for certain “luxury” apartments with hefty rent, so if you’re leasing a penthouse apartment for $7,000 a month, it’s probably not rent controlled. Then again, if you’re leasing a penthouse apartment for $7,000 a month you’re probably not concerned about a possible rent increase sending you out into the streets.
A lot of places also have something called “vacancy decontrol.” What this means is that if a tenant moves out, the landlord can temporarily take that apartment off rent control and set a new market-rate rent. As long as that amount doesn’t exceed the rent control maximums, the apartment would return to rent control once the new tenant moved in.
The easiest way to find out if your apartment is rent-controlled is to ask. However, keep in mind a lot of landlords aren’t too fond of rent control laws, so your landlord might not exactly be forthcoming about that information. However, most cities with rent control also have lists of apartments or buildings that are subject to the ordinance in their rent control board offices—some even have those lists online, but typically a phone call is all it takes to find out for sure. Many cities also have tenants’ rights associations you can call, and someone there will help you find out for sure.