National advocacy organizations PowerSwitch Action and Local Progress Policy Institute (also known as Local Progress Impact Lab) released last month a new toolkit to support elected officials, community leaders, and housing advocates as they design and implement rent stabilization ordinances (RSOs) at the state and local levels. Bringing together examples and insights drawn directly from community leaders who have worked to implement these protections for their own constituents, the new toolkit focuses on topics such as how far to extend the scope of RSOs, when to implement RSOs, and how much RSOs should allow rents to increase.
“Local elected leaders are on the frontlines of their communities, hearing directly from their constituents that ongoing, destabilizing rent hikes are untenable for renter households,” said Christina Rosales, Housing and Land Justice Director at PowerSwitch Action. “Rent stabilization is a tool to address this immediate need, and we co-created this toolkit to help advocates, organizers, and local elected officials work together to craft a policy that works for their communities.”
Rent stabilization ordinances, also referred to as “rent control,” seek to establish or codify centralized control over rental costs by prohibiting landlords and property owners from increasing a tenant’s rent by more than a certain amount each year. RSOs establish allowable rental increases that are commonly decided upon by a rent board or commission. A rent board or commission sets allowable rental increases using metrics like yearly changes to the cost of living and sometimes factors in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is the average yearly change in prices paid by consumers for goods and services. In some cities and towns, like Berkeley, California, a Rent Board also oversees petitions and appeals stemming from the city’s rent stabilization policy. For example, Berkeley often holds hearings on a range of issues, including situations where a landlord is seeking to increase a tenant’s rent by more than the allotted amount.
When RSOs are passed, their purpose is to ensure housing stability over the long-term by preventing landlords and property owners from pricing tenants out of their homes by making their monthly rental costs unaffordable. Rental rates are unaffordable when a tenant pays more than 30% of their monthly income towards their rent. In 2023, the national one-bedroom Housing Wage, which is the hourly wage a person working full-time needs to earn to afford a one-bedroom apartment, as outlined in NLIHC’s Out of Reach report, is $23.67 – more than three times the federal minimum wage. Making matters worse, rental rates soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing by more than 15% between 2020 and 2022. As a result, the momentum for RSOs has been steadily increasing, and RSOs were even cited in the Biden-Harris administration’s Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights brief as one of the administration’s top priorities for ensuring housing stability for renters.
Using examples from the field, the new toolkit highlights the rate at which RSOs are being passed nationwide. In all, the new toolkit notes more than 10 states and localities across the country that have passed rent stabilization policies, highlighting a statewide RSO in Minnesota and more than five RSOs enacted in California. NLIHC has meanwhile been tracking the implementation of rent stabilization laws and policies that have been implemented across the county in its State and Local Tenant Protections Database. Since 2019, more than 20 jurisdictions have passed rent stabilization policies, with an uptick in such passages between 2021 and 2023 as pandemic-era policies and programs expired or were rolled back.
The toolkit, which also includes a guide on effective messaging tips and talking points, also focuses on how to combat opposition to RSOs. Specifically, the toolkit includes information on how to mitigate the negative consequences that state-level preemptions can have when it comes to passing tenant protections. Preemptions, passed in the form of laws by state lawmakers, seek to diminish the power of local governments to enact their own rules and regulations. In the housing sector, preemptions can take the form of prohibitions imposed on localities working to enact protections that deal with source-of-income (SOI) discrimination or rent control laws. To date, three states nationwide have preempted the passage of SOI laws, and 33 states have banned localities from enforcing rent control policies.
“Corporate landlords have pushed lawmakers in 33 states to ban local communities from enacting these protective policies, but if local leaders – elected ones and community groups – can come together to shine a light on the need for common-sense rent stabilization policies, this can till the soil to roll back preemptive state legislation that has roots in white supremacy and is driven and backed by corporate interests” said Rosales, speaking of the need to fight back against state preemption laws.
Finally, the new toolkit details the importance of passing additional protections, in conjunction with passing rent stabilization laws and policies, that can keep renters stably housed over the long term. Specifically, the toolkit mentions the importance of companion policies that can better ensure the success of RSOs, including laws related to rental registries, anti-harassment protections, and just cause eviction standards. Rental registry laws, for example, can be used to promote transparency and accountability between landlords and tenants, ensuring that a unit’s rental payments will be predictable. The toolkit also pushes for the passage of anti-harassment and just cause policies to ensure that tenants faced with the threat of eviction will not be forced out of their apartments due to fraud, intimidation, or coercion and instead are only ever evicted for good or “just” causes.
To read more about the toolkit, visit the following link.
To learn more about the protections NLIHC tracks through its State and Local Tenant Protections database, please visit: https://nlihc.org/tenant-protections