Rent Control: Why Is It So Bad?

When rent is “too damn high,” people move. Yet many cities still impose rotating rent controls, in a misguided attempt to make housing more affordable.

Governments can hardly be credited with behaving as rational actors. Still, for those of you with a lingering sense that maybe rent control-mongers might have a point, here’s a nonexhaustive list of why rent control is such bad policy:

  • Rent control reduces landlords’ incentives to rent out apartments. This means that rent control in a city keeps apartments available for rent scarce.
  • Demand skyrockets for the few available apartments. Unable to respond to rising demand in the logical way–raising price–landlords impose conditions on renters, or stop responding immediately to renters’ complaints because, after all, with such low vacancy levels renters have nowhere to go. This keeps relations between landlords and tenants tense and aggressive–hardly the friendly neighborhood model community-minded rent control-ers had in mind…!
  • Landlords paying more for apartments than they’re able to collect in rent cannot afford to maintain or repair units. Apartments stay in disrepair for the duration of rent-controlled tenancy, until landlords can collect market prices and therefore pay plumbers, caulkers, repairmen, etc.
  • Rent-controlled apartments cause stagnation. Tenants paying below-market prices for apartments are unlikely to move, even for higher wages or better jobs. This suppresses long-term economic growth, marginally disincentivizes the rent-controlled tenant’s instinct to find any work when unemployed, and depresses neighborhoods’ development overall.
  • Landlords afraid of statistically-inevitable squatters will rationally prefer shorter-term renters, inadvertently discriminating against just the people rent control is ostensibly designed to help, like retirees or families with young children.
  • Like any price control, restriction begets more restriction. If rent increases are only allowed between leases, rational landlords will not hesitate to evict bad tenants, even where under market price landlords would have more compassion for the same bad tenants. This translates to demand for further government interference on behalf of tenants, i.e., into deeper bureaucracy, more policing, and ever-more-developed landlords’ search for loopholes.