14-1 Advancing Tenant Protections: Anti-Rent Gouging Legislation

By Gabrielle Ross, NLIHC

Across the country, people are struggling to make ends meet. People cannot afford necessities such as food, healthcare, and a safe and accessible home without sacrifice. The housing poverty crisis in the United States has been raging for decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this issue. With temporary protections from the pandemic expiring, renters across the country faced rising inflation, soaring rents, and increasing evictions. Housing unaffordability has been a driving factor of inflation, with rising rents affecting the lowest-income renters the most. In 2021, the average cost of rent rose 14%, and in cities like New York, Austin, and Miami, rent increased over 40%.

Representative Jamal Bowman (D-NY) introduced the “Emergency Price Stabilization Act” on August 4, 2022. The new legislation aims to expand the White House Supply Chains Disruption Task Force to include a new sub-task force with the ability to monitor and analyze price increases in housing, energy, and other sectors. Congress and the President would have the ability to create important protections needed to increase housing stability for renters as they face unprecedented rent increases. The legislation would grant the administration the authority to proactively investigate corporate exploitation and to design controls and regulations to limit rent and other price gouging. In a statement regarding the new legislation, NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel explained that “even before the pandemic, millions of America’s lowest-income and most marginalized households were struggling to keep roofs over their heads…Today, these same households are facing new threats with historic levels of inflation and skyrocketing rents. Just as some states have in place laws to prevent price or rent gouging after natural disasters, Congress should consider similar protections like those included in the Emergency Price Stabilization Act for renters…” (At the time of writing, the Emergency Price Stabilization Act had not yet been reintroduced in the 118th Congress.)

Likewise, Representatives Ro Khanna, Katie Porter, and Mark Takano of California introduced the “Stop Wall Street Landlords Act” on November 7, 2022. The legislation aims to address rent gouging by wealthy corporate landlords. As explained in a press release issued by Representative Khanna, the need for this legislation stems from the increased investor activity in the U.S. housing market, which has led to normalized price gouging, excessive fees, and abusive practices that have combined to drive up housing prices. Last year, investors purchased almost 25% of single-family homes sold across the country, leading to increased rent prices. (Like the Emergency Price Stabilization Act, the Stop Wall Street Landlords Act had not yet been reintroduced in the 118th Congress at the time of writing.)

On November 9, 2022, the City of Kingston Rent Guidelines Board voted for a 15% rent reduction on all newly rent stabilized properties in the New York town. The reduction applies to renters who sign one- or two-year leases between August 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023, and is unique in the State of New York, as no other locality has passed a similar rent reduction since the “Emergency Tenant Protections Act” was passed in 1974. The ruling, however, was challenged in the Ulster County Supreme Court after a group of landlords known as Hudson Valley Property Owners Associated sued the city, claiming the basis of the rent reduction was not valid. Ultimately, a judge ruled that Kingston’s stabilized properties cannot proceed with the 15% rent reduction. A lawsuit attempting to eliminate rent stabilization is still pending. Although the measure has been challenged, the success of the vote by the Rent Guidelines Board shows the power of tenants and state and local organizations to create real change in their communities. Aaron Narraph Fernando, communications lead at the New York organization For the Many, called the victory “monumental…not just for Kingston tenants, but for tenants across New York.”