For as often as rent control is talked about in the news or insinuated in movies that take place in New York City (where characters seem to have gorgeous apartments they can’t afford), it is not all that common. What most people think of in regard to modern rent control started during WWII. Rent control was adopted because of housing shortages, economic issues, public pressure, and concern over unethical profiting. The same issues today are leading to more talks regarding rent control in growing populations and expensive cities. However, as of right now, rent control only applies in a few places.

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Who has rent control?

Rent control is not the norm. A vast majority of states preempt it, meaning state law does not allow counties or cities to put it in place. You’ll find it parts of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, District of Columbia, and California. Keep in mind that rent control is not always state law and applied throughout the entire state. California is a great example. Certain municipalities in the state have enacted rent control provisions due to their communities’ specific needs and concerns. It is not statewide. In fact, Oregon is the first state to recently impose statewide rent control.

What is rent control?

In some areas, there is a rental ceiling, which is a maximum amount landlords can charge for a unit. The ceiling may be based on a variety of factors such as the type of unit, square footage, and amenities like parking or laundry. However, this is not a common rent control method. Most areas allow landlords to set the rental amount at the beginning of a tenancy that reflects market rates.

Many municipalities control how much a landlord can raise the rent each year. The landlord can begin a new lease with an amount relevant to the current market. However, during that tenant’s stay, the landlord can only raise rent within the limits set by the local government, which is often a percentage calculated each year. For instance, if the approved increase is a maximum 2 percent, then a landlord can raise a tenant’s rent up to 2 percent of the current rental amount. In New York City, landlords can raise rents up to 7.5 percent each year until they reach the rental ceiling, which is also adjusted every two years based on inflation.

Rent control also dictates when and how a landlord can increase rent. Typically, a landlord can raise rent each year. However, the law requires the landlord to give tenants written notice at a specific period of time before the new rent goes into effect. Rent control laws also usually come with a variety of eviction protections to ensure landlords cannot evict tenants for any reason just to raise rent significantly for a new tenant.

What if my landlord is violating rent control?

The first step to determining whether your landlord is violating rent control is to check if your building is rent controlled. Most state and local governments that have rent control will have a database where you can look up all rent-controlled properties. An experienced attorney can also help you research your building to determine whether it is rent-controlled. If you believe your unit is covered by a local rent control law and the landlord is violating that law, call a landlord-tenant attorney immediately.