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
- Helps to keep rents fair and affordable while allowing landlords the flexibility to increase rents in order to address necessary improvements or increased operating costs.
- Capping annual rent increases ensures that tenants will not be priced out of their homes by rent spikes that exceed inflation and incomes.
- Jurisdictions determine the amount that rents can increase. These figures are typically based on the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, which is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.
- Assert that landlords can only legally evict tenants for one or more of an established list of reasons; an eviction for any other reason is unlawful.
- Requires landlords to follow predetermined procedures for giving notice to tenants and carrying out evictions. Landlords may be required to compensate tenants who are evicted without cause.
- Jurisdictions can opt for these rules to apply when a tenant’s lease ends. The tenant has the right to automatically renew their lease or enter a month-to-month contract so long as there is no just cause for the tenant’s eviction.
- Services are provided by legal organizations and funded by local governments. Legal assistance helps inform tenants of their rights under a jurisdiction’s housing code, and ensures that tenants have a fair chance in court.
- Access to affordable legal assistance increases the likelihood that landlords and tenants will reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
- Localities can choose to make services available to all tenants, those with the greatest risk of being evicted or those who fall within a specified income threshold.
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.