Family of five standing together on their front porch.

Why they matter: Renter protections

Policy solutions to protect families who rent can include rent stabilization, just cause evictions and by-right affordable legal assistance for tenants facing eviction.  

What are renter protections? 

Renters face increased housing instability when the cost of rent outpaces household incomes. This dynamic often forces families — and disproportionally households of color — to make tradeoffs on other expenses or move to overcrowded homes or to units that are more likely to be substandard. State and municipal governments can enact policy solutions that help protect low- and moderate-income families from displacement and maintain access to affordable homes. 

How do renter protection policies work? 

Rent stabilization policies have existed since the mid-1900s. They place a cap on the amount that landlords can increase rents annually. Just cause eviction policies promote residential stability and help ensure that low-income earners and other vulnerable individuals do not face unfair evictions. By-right affordable legal assistance programs provide legal counseling and representation in court for tenants facing eviction at little or no cost to the tenant. 

Types of renter protections

Grandmother embracing her smiling young grandchild in their home.

Habitat in action 

In 2019, Oregon became the first state to enact statewide rent stabilization and just cause eviction policies. Habitat Oregon worked with its coalition partners to educate policymakers on the need to provide stronger protections for renters statewide. The legislature passed SB 608, which established new policies to cap rent increases at 7% above the annual change in the CPI and limit increases to once per year. Oregon previously prohibited rent control and had a “no cause” eviction standard, meaning that landlords could evict tenants without a fair reason. Thanks to the new law, landlords are now prohibited from terminating month-to-month agreements without cause after 12 months of tenant occupancy. 

Things to keep in mind with renter protections 

  • Rent control is different from rent stabilization. Rent control is usually tied to both the rental unit and the tenant of the unit at the time that the policy is adopted. Under a rent control system, landlords are permitted to increase rents only at very modest rates until the unit is vacated. 
  • Rent stabilization policies have been criticized for disincentivizing investment in the quality of rental units because landlords are not able to recoup costs for upgrades and repairs through rental rate increases. 
  • Policies work best when implemented together. For example, many jurisdictions that employ rent stabilization policies also enact just cause eviction laws to discourage landlords from evicting tenants unfairly. 
  • Thirty-six states have preempted local governments from implementing rent stabilization policies, and some states prohibit localities from enacting just cause eviction policies. 

In 2020, the statewide rent stabilization policies existed only in California, New York, Oregon and the District of Columbia. The only states where some municipalities have their own policies in place are California, Maryland and New Jersey.