Rent Control and Vacancy Decontrol Laws

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 What Is a Tenant?

In the context of the law, a tenant is an individual who is occupying or possessing land or a residence by renting it from a landlord. Tenants have the right to use and occupy specific rental property based on a rental agreement, or lease, that has been established and signed by the tenant and the property owner or the landlord.

A tenant is provided with this right as long as they follow the terms and conditions that are set forth by their lease, including paying rent.

What Rights Do Tenants Have?

If an individual knows their rights as a tenant, it will allow them to be a better tenant while also asserting their rights, if necessary. Every state has specific laws that govern landlord-tenant relationships.

A tenant may believe they do not have many rights because the property they are renting does not belong to them. Tenants, however, actually have a wide variety of rights.

Although the lease is what will govern many aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship, state law will also play a part in a tenant’s rights. Examples of tenant’s rights include, but may not be limited to:

  • Eviction protections, for example, if the landlord goes into foreclosure;
  • Discrimination protections, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act;
    • These laws protect tenants from being discriminated against when renting based on their protected status, which may include their:
      • age;
      • disability;
      • religion;
      • other characteristics;
  • Property standards, such as the requirement that the unit must be kept in habitable conditions and the right to minor repairs;
  • A proper eviction process, if necessary; and
  • Return of appropriate security deposits in a timely manner, with only reasonable deductions taken from the initial security deposit payment.

Although an individual may be renting or leasing another individual’s property, they still have the right to privacy. A landlord is not allowed to enter a rental property whenever they please.

Instead, the landlord must usually provide the tenant with some type of advance notice, often 24 hours. Every state determines the amount of notice the landlord must provide a tenant.

What Rights Do Landlords Have?

It is important for a tenant to understand the right their landlord has been granted to better understand what is and what is not appropriate during the landlord-tenant relationship. The rights of landlords will vary by state.

However, there are a few general rights landlords typically have, including the right to evict and the right to collect rent. Although a landlord cannot kick an individual out of the rental for no reason, a landlord does have the right to properly and legally evict a tenant.

Eviction often occurs when the tenant fails to pay rent or violates some other term of their lease. Regardless of the reason for the eviction, a landlord cannot simply throw out a tenant.

In addition, landlords are prohibited from changing locks on the property while the tenant is away. Landlords do have the right to collect rent, including any agreed-upon late fees for rent payments that were made past the agreed-upon due date.

In addition, a landlord maintains the right to raise the rent according to the terms of the lease. Landlords also have the right to select their tenants.

However, a landlord cannot engage in housing discrimination against a potential tenant based on their membership in a protected class. Landlords can legally make an informed decision and select or reject a tenant based on the following:

  • The tenant’s past credit and bank accounts;
  • The tenant’s previous landlords, which can include asking for references;
  • The tenant’s past criminal history; or
  • The approximate length of time the tenant wishes to inhabit the landlord’s property.

It is important to be aware that although a landlord does have the right to raise rent, there are many metropolitan areas that have enacted local rent control ordinances. These ordinances place limits on the amount that a landlord may increase the rent.

Landlords are required to adhere to these ordinances. In addition, the rent control ordinances may also limit the reasons a landlord is permitted to evict a tenant.

What Is Rent Control and How Does It Work?

Rent control laws, which may also be referred to as rent stabilization laws, are local ordinances that provide regulations regarding rent levels and evictions of tenants. There is a local board that determines the rent levels by examining several factors, including:

  • Cost of living;
  • Consumer price index or CPI, which is a weighted average of prices in urban areas;
  • Rental unit type.

If a unit is vacant and is located in a rent control area, the maximum amount a landlord is allowed to raise the rent is based on the level that is set by the board. These levels are often below market value.

Once the tenant has signed their lease, the landlord is limited by law in how much they can increase the rent annually. Typically, the longer the tenant stays in a rent control unit, the less the rental payment will become relative to the income of the tenant’s income and the unit’s market value.

Rent control laws are primarily known for favoring tenant’s rights because they help stabilize rent levels. Typically, a landlord will not favor rent control laws because they greatly limit the returns on their investment property.

There are some states that have passed vacancy decontrol regulations to protect landlords.

What Is Vacancy Decontrol?

Under landlord-tenant laws, vacancy decontrol regulations set the rent amount at market or near market levels when the unit is vacant and regulate the raising of the rent. In certain cases, vacancy decontrol provides guidelines as to how high, for example, 10%, of the maximum previous rent on the unit, which takes effect when a new tenant signs the lease.

In terms of raising rent levels for existing tenants, a vacancy decontrol regulates rent increases by:

  • Percentage of existing rent;
  • Consumer price index or CPI;
  • Based on the tenant’s household income.

What Are the Rent Control Statutes That Help to Protect Tenants?

As noted above, the rent control statutes are local and will vary by state. As of 2022, there were eight jurisdictions that have some type of residential rent control, including:

  • California;
  • District of Columbia;
  • New York;
  • New Jersey;
  • Maryland;
  • Maine;
  • Oregon; and
  • Minnesota.

These apply to normal structures and exclude mobile homes. There are some states that have rent control laws in effect in certain areas, such as New York State.

In New York State, the jurisdictions that have rent control laws include:

  • New York City;
  • Nassau County;
  • Westchester County.

Do I Need a Lawyer Concerning My Issue With Rent Increase Regulations?

If you are a tenant, a rent control unit may be a desirable commodity. If you are looking for a rent-controlled unit, it is important to search in areas where there are rent-control ordinances.

A landlord-tenant lawyer in your area can help you by advising you of the locations in your state that have these ordinances, as well as your rights as a tenant in your state. If you are a landlord, your lawyer can explain the regulations in your area and how they will affect your rights and investments.

Your lawyer can help you make sure you are within your rights and do not violate an ordinance when you increase the rent.

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