What rent control won’t do

This fall both the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul will have questions around rent control on their ballots. The latter’s proposal is the most straightforward. It asks voters for the right to cap annual rent increases at 3% with no exceptions (an exception might be to increase rent at a higher rate after a major renovation to the property, for example). This, I’m told, would be the most restrictive rent control measure in the country.

Minneapolis’ proposal beats around the bush a little bit as the ballot question simply asks to allow the Minneapolis City Council to investigate rent control stabilization. Many people feel that should this request pass, then the city council would simply move forward on any initiatives they felt appropriate without further input from constituents. (There’s that Minnesotan passive aggressiveness again.)

The movement seems to find momentum from the social justice warriors. We’re going to protect the citizens from the capitalists!

There’s no interest in considering price signals as a way of communicating resource allocation, or a neighborhood’s strengths and weaknesses. And maybe more importantly the relative power of the public goods in each little nook of the city. Clearly there’s no interest in comparing prices and using those relative differences to match prospective renters to the areas which would offer the greatest capacity at meeting their short comings.

The only issue at stake here is whether the stabilization controls rent increases. Because this is thought to be economically beneficial to the renter.

Capping rents however does not make a landlord keep a property in good repair; it does not prohibit them from collecting rent and not pay their mortgage. Rent stabilization does not make a landlord vigilant about the heating and cooling system, nor replacing aging appliances. It doesn’t stop them from hedging on the required time notice for entering the unit, nor being adept at keeping the noise down in the building.

Capping rents does not make the bad landlords more responsive in any way.

But most importantly, rent stabilization does not transfer any wealth to renters in times of steep real estate appreciation. When prices are climbing as they have in recent years, it does not alleviate the feeling that some folks are being left behind.

Helping transition renters to owners, showing them the ropes on caring for and managing their own home, does put them in a position of gaining wealth. And that’s the goal good-willed people should be setting their sites on. Not arbitrary price fixing.

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