Tag Archives: Rent Control

Oregon Defies Logic With Statewide Rent Control

It is often said by cynical economists and political commentators, usually of the right or libertarian persuasion, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. There is no more odious and damaging economic policy that comes from the heart than rent control. For years, limiting the cost of living spaces was done at the local level, but one West Coast state aims to be the first to implement statewide rent controls.

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Oregon’s Proposed Rent Controls

Oregon is set to pass SB 608, legislation that prohibits landlords from raising rents in the first year of a resident’s tenancy. The bill would also cap future rent hikes at 7% annually, plus inflation. This will target all rental properties 15 years or older but exempt units that are a part of a government housing project.

It should be noted that SB 608 does not have vacancy controls, which means buildings can jack up the rent by any amount once the tenant gives his or her notice. Because of this, the legislation bans no-cause evictions, so any landlord must offer a government-approved excuse for evicting a tenant.

With Democratic supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, SB 608 is likely to pass, making Oregon the first state with statewide rent control.

Gov. Kate Brown (D-OR) is proud of the move, saying in her inaugural address:

“We also need to help Oregonians who have homes but are struggling with the high cost of rent. We can help landlords and tenants navigate this tight housing market. Speaker [Tina] Kotek and Sen. [Ginny] Burdick have innovative proposals that will give renters some peace of mind.”

Lawmakers are jubilant over the bill, but economic experts call the Beaver State’s policy proposal risky, including Mike Wilkerson of ECONorthwest, an economics consulting firm, telling Reason: “You’d be hard-pressed to find any economist who comes out in favor of rent control as a means to help improve whatever failure you are experiencing.”

Rent Control Hurts the Poor

First, it is important to examine the justification for rent controls. Advocates contend that it is immoral for someone who has lived in a neighborhood his entire life to be suddenly priced out of it. It is also wrong, they assert, that landlords are just sitting on their rear ends, enjoying higher rents, because there is a greater demand to reside in New York, San Francisco, or Boston than in Jerome, AZ, or Bonanza, CO.

Proponents will ignore the unintended consequences of rent control. New properties are not erected, vacancy rates plunge, existing landlords exit the market, and the small supply of housing diminishes. Landlords will try to evade regulations by transforming their units into condominiums, luxury apartments, furnished suites, or offices.

Advocates also overlook two other important facts: Real estate can be utilized for a diverse array of purposes (commercial, housing, or industrial), and these laws distort pricing signals.

Ultimately, the state plays a game of cat-and-mouse, coming up with intrusive ways to rein in the evaders. Regulation begets regulation.

New York City

When World War II ended and peacetime reigned supreme in America again, things were not what they used to be, at least for the thousands of troops returning home. After being engaged in battles overseas, soldiers had a new front to fight at home: life – and everything it had to offer.

Despite the inflation rate either contracting or rising in single digits between 1947 and 1952, the cost of living ballooned for the returning heroes of the Armed Forces. One area of the country that increasingly priced these men out of the market was New York City, where real estate values were skyrocketing – and still are!

Officials had an idea to help everyone affected by rising housing costs: rent controls. While the goal was to make units more affordable, the city made the situation worse by introducing temporary relief.

Like economist Milton Friedman once quipped, “There is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program.” This relic of 1947 is still around today, exacerbating the housing affordability crisis. It is estimated that approximately 50,000 apartments and one million rent-stabilized units are controlled by a 70-year-old law.

To understand how egregious this policy is, look no further than former Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY). The Wall Street Journal reported in September 2008 that he occupied “four rent-stabilized apartments in a posh New York City building,” living in three and using another as an office. By holding four properties, he took advantage of valuable resources at below-market prices at the expense of others.

Controls

Is there a difference between bombs and rent control? Economists often pose this question when debating the efficacy of government controls. The Mises Institute’s Joseph Salerno delivered a lecture a few years ago, showing pictures of urban areas and asking his audience if these dilapidated units were the victims of a bombing campaign or rent controls.

When you even pose the question, you know it’s necessary to second-guess the prescription.

Any time officials use “controls,” you know the policy is going to be a failure. Whether it is preceded by “price” or “rent,” this economically defiant measure produces destitution, deterioration, and destruction. It’s too bad politicians and bureaucrats never learn their lesson.

Source: ZeroHedge

L.A. to Worsen Housing Shortage with New Rent Controls

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Los Angeles, home to one of the least affordable housing markets in North America, is now proposing to expand rent control to “fix” its housing problem. 

As with all price control schemes, rent control will serve only to make housing affordable to a small sliver of the population while rendering housing more inaccessible to most. 

Specifically, city activists hope that a new bill in the state legislature, AB1506, will allow local governments, Los Angeles included, to expand the number of units covered by rent control laws while also restricting the extent to which landlords can raise rents. 

Unintended Consequences 

Currently, partial rent control is already in place in Los Angeles and landlords there are limited in how much they can raise rents on current residents. However, according to LA Weeklylandlords are free to raise rents to market levels for a unit once that unit turns over to new residents. 

This creates a situation of perverse incentives that do a disservice to both renters and landlords. Under normal circumstances, landlords want to minimize turnover among renters because it is costly to advertise and fill units, and it’s costly to prepare units for new renters. (Turnover is also costly and inconvenient for renters.) 

By limiting rent growth for ongoing renters, however, this creates an incentive for landlords to break leases with residents — even residents who the landlords may like — just so the landlords can increase rents for new incoming renters in order to cover their costs of building maintenance and improvements. The only upside to this current regime is that at least this partial loophole still allows for some profit to be made, and thus allows for owners to produce and improve housing some of the time

But, if this loophole is closed, as the “affordable housing” activists hope to do, we can look forward to even fewer housing units being built, current units falling into disrepair, and even less availability of housing for residents. 

Why Entrepreneurs Bring Products to Market 

The reason fewer units will be built under a regime of harsher rent control, is because entrepreneurs (i.e., producers) only bring goods and services to market if they can be produced at a cost below the market price. 

Contrary to the myth perpetuated by many anti-capitalists, market prices — in this case, rents are not determined by the cost of producing a good or service. Nor are prices determined by the whims of producers based on how greedy they are or how much profit they’d like to make. 

In fact, producers are at the mercy of the renters who — in the absence of price controls — determine the price level at which entrepreneurs must produce housing before they can expect to make any profit. 

However, when governments dictate that rent levels must be below what would have been market prices — and also below the level at which new units can be produced and maintained — then producers of housing will look elsewhere. 

Henry Hazlitt explains many of the distortions and bizarre incentives that emerge from price control measures: 

The effects of rent control become worse the longer the rent control continues. New housing is not built because there is no incentive to build it. With the increase in building costs (commonly as a result of inflation), the old level of rents will not yield a profit. If, as often happens, the government finally recognizes this and exempts new housing from rent control, there is still not an incentive to as much new building as if older buildings were also free of rent control. Depending on the extent of money depreciation since old rents were legally frozen, rents for new housing might be ten or twenty times as high as rent in equivalent space in the old. (This actually happened in France after World War II, for example.) Under such conditions existing tenants in old buildings are indisposed to move, no matter how much their families grow or their existing accommodations deteriorate.

Thus, 

Rent control … encourages wasteful use of space. It discriminates in favor of those who already occupy houses or apartments in a particular city or region at the expense of those who find themselves on the outside. Permitting rents to rise to the free market level allows all tenants or would-be tenants equal opportunity to bid for space. 

Nor surprisingly, when we look into the current rent-control regime in Los Angeles, we find that newer housing is exempt, just as Hazlitt might have predicted. Unfortunately, housing activists now seek to eliminate even this exemption, and once these expanded rent controls are imposed, those on the outside won’t be able to bid for space in either new or old housing.

Newcomers will be locked out of all rent-controlled units — on which the current residents hold a death grip — and they can’t bid on the units that were never built because rent control made new housing production unprofitable. Thus, as rent control expands, the universe of available units shrinks smaller and smaller. Renters might flee to single-family rental homes where rent increases might still be allowed, or they might have to move to neighboring jurisdictions that might not have rent controls in place. 

In both cases, the effect is to reduce affordability and choice. By pushing new renters toward single-family homes this makes single-family homes relatively more profitable than multi-family dwellings, thus reducing density, and robbing both owners and renters of the benefits of economies of scale that come with higher-density housing. Also, those renters who would prefer the amenities of multi-family communities are prevented from accessing them. Meanwhile, by forcing multi-family production into neighboring jurisdictions, this increases commute times for renters while forcing them into areas they would have preferred not to live in the first place. 

But, then again, for many local governments — and the residents who support them — fewer multi-family units, lower densities, and fewer residents in general, are all to the good. After all, local government routinely prohibit developers from developing more housing through zoning laws, regulation of new construction, parking requirements, and limitations on density. 

And these local ordinances, of course, are the real cause of Los Angeles’s housing crisis. Housing isn’t expensive in Los Angeles because landlords are greedy monsters who try to exploit their residents. Housing is expensive because a large number of renters are competing for a relatively small number of housing units. 

And why are there so few housing units? Because the local governments usually drive up the cost of housing. As this report from UC Berkeley concluded: 

In California, local governments have substantial control over the quantity and type of housing that can be built. Through the local zoning code, cities decide how much housing can theoretically be built, whether it can be built by right or requires significant public review, whether the developer needs to perform a costly environmental review, fees that a developer must pay, parking and retail required on site, and the design of the building, among other regulations. And these factors can be significant – a 2002 study by economists from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania found strict zoning controls to be the most likely cause of high housing costs in California.

Contrary to what housing activists seem to think, declaring that rents shall be lower will not magically make more housing appear. Put simply, the problem of too little housing — assuming demand remains the same — can be solved with only one strategy: producing more housing

Rent control certainly won’t solve that problem, and if housing advocates need to find a reason why so little housing is being built, they likely will need to look no further than the city council.

By Ryan McMaken | Mises Institute