I just moved to California from Georgia and I’m staying with a girl friend while I look for a place of my own. I’ve noticed several listings mention rent control, though I never heard anything about rent control in Georgia! I read it keeps landlords from raising rent too high, but I don’t entirely understand how it works. Could you explain how this works, pretty please?
Full Question and Answer
Listen Southern Bell, if you’re worried you’ll look stupid because you don’t know how rent control works, don’t be—only a few states in the country have rent control, and then only in specific communities where demand for housing is particularly high. Parts of California have rent control, as do New York, New Jersey, Maryland and D.C.
Generally speaking, rent control laws determine when, why and by how much a landlord can increase rent. Even in places that have rent control, the laws only apply to certain buildings. For example, New York’s rent control laws only apply to buildings built before 1947, and require that the tenant has been living there continuously since before July 1, 1971. Rent stabilization is a different beast, applying generally to buildings with six or more units that were built before January 1, 1974.
California’s rent control depends on the municipal laws of the 15 cities that have rent control in place. For example, in Los Angeles, only properties with two or more rental units that were built before November of 1978 and are located within the city limits are subject to rent control.
Rent control provides a few major benefits to you as a tenant. Regardless of what a landlord could charge for rent on the open market, she can only raise the rent by a set percentage each time you renew your lease—and no surprises. Rent control laws generally require your landlord let you know at least 30 days in advance if she’s planning on increasing your rent when you renew.
Additionally, if you live in a rent-controlled apartment and you’re generally a good tenant—you know, one who pays her rent on time, doesn’t have neighbors filing noise complaints on you every weekend and isn’t running a meth lab in her kitchen—then you have the right to renew your lease. Tenants in rent-controlled apartments can only be evicted for one of the reasons specified in the law. Your landlord can’t just refuse to renew the lease because she doesn’t like your new haircut or thinks your hairless Chihuahua is ugly (for the record, yes, it is ugly).
Speaking of your hairless Chihuahua, there’s another benefit to you under L.A.’s rent control law—if your landlord allows pets and then later changes her mind and makes her building a pet-free zone, she can’t make you move or get rid of your dog. As long as you want to stay (and as long as you keep your nose clean), you get to keep your pet with you!
Needless to say, people who have rent-controlled apartments tend to keep them and sometimes go to great (and deceptive) odds to do so. Exhibit A: A New York City woman pretended her dead aunt was still alive so she could pay $287 a month for an apartment that would have rented for more than two grand on the open market. She managed to keep that ruse up for four years before she was discovered. At that savings point, we might have considered the same option, too.