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Tenants Lament Lack Of Rent Control As Rents Skyrocket
A renter in Texas took to social media to express her disappointment and shock after her landlord raised her rent by more than $800.
If you are leasing a property or apartment that is rent-controlled, you should be glad. Rent control is best defined as a government program that limits the amount your landlord can raise your rent when it’s time to renew your lease. Although the specific limit for individual towns and cities is determined by local governments, the purpose is to prevent housing from becoming unaffordable, particularly for lower-income residents, the elderly, and members of the population who live on a fixed income. In a world with spiraling costs of living where wages aren’t rising nearly as fast as housing costs, rent control can be a lifesaver.
However, rent control has always been highly controversial. In fact, 31 states have passed laws that forbid local governments from enacting rent control measures as of February 2022. The main arguments against rent control are that it reduces the supply of decent housing and decreases local development, puts a ceiling on profitability, incentivizes bad tenants to stay put, and maintenance of rent-controlled buildings tends to be below par because of the poor return on investment for landlords.
Regardless of whether rent control is in effect or not, landlords can only raise the rent when it’s time to renew the lease. Usually, that will be once a year. If your landlord will be raising your rent, they will likely be required to give either 30 days or 60 days notice to inform you. But when rent control isn’t in place, there is no limit as to how much your landlord can raise your rent. If they really wanted to, your landlord could double, triple, or even quadruple your monthly rent. This is where you start to remember horror stories of people who were forced to move because their current apartment or home became too expensive.
Now that the moratoriums on evictions and resources for renters that were put into place for COVID-19 have expired, rent increases are getting out of hand in some parts of the country. For example, a TikTok video posted by Kara Perez (@webravelygo) on March 31 went viral after she shared that the rent for her apartment increased by $855. Perez, who lives in Austin, Texas, explained that Texas doesn’t have rent control laws and that her landlord could have raised her rent by thousands of dollars if they really wanted to. In the comments, other TikTok users from Texas responded that they were forced to move after their landlords also raised their rents by hundreds of dollars.
Population increases, skyrocketing home prices, and strict zoning regulations are all contributing to significant rent increases in Texas. And Texans are not alone. National rents have reached an all-time high, with rents increasing by more than 20% in popular cities like Miami; San Diego; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Seattle; Orlando, and Tampa. Making matters worse, the cost of living is soaring throughout the country, but wages are not rising fast enough to keep up. According to Bloomberg, only 18% of consumers feel that their wages are keeping pace with the higher cost of living.
With this information in mind, how can you protect yourself as a renter? First, make sure you understand your rights as a tenant. For instance, don’t let your landlord raise your rent retroactively because doing so is illegal. Landlords are also not allowed to raise the rent in a way that retaliates against you, or as a form of punishment. One example might be you complained about something to do with the property, so your landlord responded by significantly increasing your rent. This is called a punitive rent increase and is illegal. Additionally, always review your lease when the time to renew rolls around so you can remind yourself of the terms you agreed to. You can also speak with your landlord and other tenants you trust to see if your rent increase is in line with what everyone else received.
Generally, your landlord will not drastically raise your rent because he needs to stay competitive with other landlords in the area. So while living in a non-rent controlled building or home can be risky, it’s not likely to impact you too much. If you’re a good tenant, your landlord will want you to stay to keep your business. It’s unlikely that your landlord will surprise you with an unreasonable raise because they’d lose your business and make it more difficult to find a new tenant if you left.
Because rent control is so controversial, it can be hard to tell if a prospective rental property is rent-controlled or not. But if you live in a state that allows rent control, you may want to factor that into your decision the next time you’re looking to move. You can find out if rent control applies to a home or complex by asking a local real estate agent and looking up rent control laws in your city. Check to see if your city's rent or housing board website has a database of rent controlled units that you can refer to while you are house hunting. Additionally, keep an eye out for older buildings during your home search, as they are often more likely to be rent-controlled.
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