Is Rent Control Available to Your City?

Local Tools to Address Housing Affordability: A State-by-State Analysis is the fifth annual report produced in partnership with the 49 state municipal leagues. This post is part of a series highlighting findings from this new report.

As the housing crisis rages on, cities are experimenting with a number of tools — that is, where they have the authority to implement them.

In a recent survey of the policies and funding available to cities to tackle housing affordability, we found that authority of cities to implement rent control policies to regulate increases in residential rent prices varies from state to state. Specifically, our analysis found that the ability of cities to implement rent control is:

  • Permitted (9 states and the District of Columbia): These cities are in states that permit local rent control with minimal restrictions or are in home rule states with no state restrictions on local rent control policies.
  • Limited (4 states): These cities are in states that permit local rent control with restrictions or specific implementation criteria, including requiring state approval, permitting rent control only for public housing, or establishing a ceiling or rate of increase for local policies.
  • Preempted (36 states): These cities are in Dillon’s Rule states with no statute expressly authorizing local rent control or are in states that expressly prohibit local rent control.
  • Mandated (1 state): Cities in this state must adhere to the statewide rent control laws and are preempted from passing their own rent control laws.
Source: National League of Cities

The city of Boston had a local rent control policy for nearly 25 years before the state ended the practice in 1994. In Boston’s experience, rent control decreased vacancy rates and rents for vulnerable and marginalized populations.

When the city lost the authority to implement rent control, it went to work to secure roughly 400 federal rent subsidies for elderly, disabled and low-income tenants. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, many tenants could no longer afford to live in the city. More than two decades later, housing affordability remains a prevailing concern for city residents. Current Mayor Marty Walsh is working with a coalition of state legislators to overturn the 1994 rent control preemption.

Other recent evidence from a collaboration between PolicyLink, the Center for Popular Democracy and the Right to the City Alliance suggests that rent control policies may not limit the construction of new units in cities, and when paired with eviction rules, can decrease the displacement of people of color and low-income residents.

Rent control detractors, however, argue that this policy dissuades developers from building new housing or improving existing stock, and that it accelerates gentrification. For example, a Stanford analysis found that rent control led to the acceleration of gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District. The policy encouraged owners to convert their units into higher-end condominiums and cooperatives.

Most economist point out that rent control helps in the short term but leads to long-term problems by barring new landlords from entering the market and forcing existing owners to exit the market, shorting supply.

Despite varying views on the policy, a productive local-state relationship is at the heart of providing housing opportunities for people across the income spectrum. After all, ensuring everyone has a place to call home is a priority for all cities and states.


About the Author: Kyle Funk is the research assistant, urban innovation, at the National League of Cities.