Rent control may be back on legislative agenda, despite recent defeats and abundant evidence of unintended consequences.

Earlier we wrote about the improbable return of rent control to urban politics, despite abundant evidence that it not only doesn’t work but often makes a tough situation worse. Although California voters rejected a measure backed by rent control advocates in the recent midterm, as Stateline reports, renters’ rights activists are promoting control measures across the country.

In the past year, an energized renters’ rights movement has won approval of rent control measures in Berkeley, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Westchester County, New York. In March, New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, signed legislation extending rent regulation laws through April 2021.

The issue also is attracting attention in statehouses. Lawmakers in Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington state have considered rent control bills in the last two years. Some of the measures would overturn existing bans on rent control; others, as in Hawaii, would establish rent control in the state or expand existing laws.

A Seattle-backed proposal failed in Olympia last year. Stateline reports proponents will be back in 2019, with a revised approach.

Washington state Rep. Nicole Macri and state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, Democrats who sponsored the House and Senate bills respectively, said they were prompted to act after hearing from long-term constituents in Seattle who were getting socked with 30 percent rent increases. Smaller cities are feeling the pinch, too, they said.

“The statute is broad enough that it really limits city councils from enacting rent control at all because they’re afraid of litigation,” Macri said.

Saldaña and Macri said they’re planning to push the issue again once the legislature is back in session in January. But this time, Macri said, she will focus on prohibiting landlords from rent gouging and slapping on excessive fees, rather than specifically pushing for rent control.

Macri’s quoted as saying they’re still trying to figure out the “right approach.” And it’s not clear how a prohibition on “rent gouging” differs from rent control. 

We’ll close as did before, by citing the Washington Research Council’s 2016 special report on rent control. The WRC wrote,

Economists have identified a number of negative effects stemming from rent control. Residential rent control reduces the supply of rental housing by discouraging new construction and encouraging the conversion of rental units to owner occupancy. It discourages maintenance of rental housing, causing housing stocks to deteriorate. It reduces the property tax base. It lowers tenant mobility, generating mismatches between units and tenants. It discourages densification and lengthens commute times. Within rent controlled cities, local property taxes are shifted away from rental housing onto owner-occupied housing and commercial and industrial properties. Regional and state-wide property taxes are shifted onto property owners outside of the city.

Policymakers have tended to agree [with the economists].

They should continue to do so.