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Rent Regulation —The Hydra of Housing Legislation

Rent Regulation

In ancient Greek mythology, there was a creature known as the Hydra that lived near Lake Lerna in Greece. This beast was known for having regenerative properties, which allowed it to regrow two heads for each one that was cut off. This myth parallels the challenges facing the apartment industry on a critical public policy issue—rent regulation. 

It appears that each time a proposal to expand rent regulation is defeated, at least two more appear in its place. Here are the instances of this “hydra effect” that we have previously reported:

  • Last year, shortly after the Santa Barbara City Council shot down an effort to implement a rent stabilization ordinance, Massachusetts, Michigan, and the California cities of Santa Rosa and Pacifica saw efforts to bring rent control to those respective jurisdictions. 
  • After the Oregon legislature stopped a proposal to end the prohibition price controls on rental housing, a mandatory inclusionary zoning measure appeared in Philadelphia and a referendum on rent control emerged in Portland, Maine. 
  • When a study on rent control in Palo Alto, Calif. went down in flames, ballot measures popped up at the state level in California, and at the local level in Santa Cruz. 
  • Earlier this year, around the same time that a bill in California to repeal Costa-Hawkins was defeated in the state assembly, two bills in Washington State to roll back rent control preemption appeared. 

While the two bills to end the local prohibition on rent control in Washington state have died, the defeat of these bills has coincided with a growing number of other proposals that have been introduced around the country to expand rent regulation. So, the “hydra effect” appears to be playing out again:

  • Lawmakers in Minnesota are currently reviewing two bills, HF2929 and SF3080 that would end the state preemption on rent control.
  • In Illinois, two more bills dealing with rent control have been introduced. The first one, HB3542 would end the state law that bans local rent control measures. The second bill, HB3512 goes even further by creating a statewide rent regulation law that would establish rent control boards in every county. 
  • Legislators in the birthplace of American rent control—New York—are reviewing AB9815, a proposal to end vacancy decontrol.
  • In South Carolina, legislators have introduced two bills that would enable local governments to adopt mandatory inclusionary zoning, HB4954 and HB4162. 
  • Policymakers in Connecticut have introduced a proposal that limits rent increases by property owners who have received, or are receiving, state financial assistance for the construction, rehabilitation or renovation of a multifamily dwelling
  • At the local level, a group of tenants’ rights advocates in Providence, Rhode Island are leading the charge to get a rent control measure on the ballot. The group must submit a petition of 1,000 qualified registered voters along with their proposed ordinance for action. Then the City Council would have 70 days to consider the ordinance. If the council failed to enact the proposed ordinance without amendment, it then would shift to the referendum petition where 5% of registered qualified voters (roughly 6,000 people) are needed for the city council to have city voters consider the ballot referendum at the next general election. 
  • On the West Coast, the City Council in Santa Ana, California has created a study to review rent control. 

The proliferation of these rent regulation measures shows the relevancy of the Hydra allegory. Thankfully, several states are effectively combating this challenge much like Hercules did the Hydra:

  • Wisconsin legislators are advancing AB770, which includes provisions that prohibit mandatory inclusionary zoning. 
  • Down in Tennessee, HB1143 and SB363—legislation that clarifies that no local government has the authority to pass a law that would place inclusionary housing requirements on development—are also moving forward. The Senate substituted the HB1143 for SB363, and voted to pass HB1143.

This ancient myth serves as a metaphor for our own contemporary legislative battles. 

While swords and arms were used to subdue the Hydra, we use persuasion and facts in legislative bodies to defend our industry. 

Ultimately, we may need to take a clue from this ancient story to help us defeat rent regulation. The way that Hercules eventually trounces the Hydra is by enlisting the assistance of his family member, Iolaus. As Hercules decapitated each of the Hydra’s heads, Iolaus would cauterize the wound, preventing two new heads from springing up. 

To slay our Hydra—rent regulation—we should emulate the tactics of Hercules by calling on and working with our own family, the NAA network of affiliates. The staff here at NAA are stand ready to equip you for battle with fact sheets, talking points, and other information to effectively advocate against rent control. 

If you are aware of a state bill or local proposal addressing rent regulations, please contact Robert Melvin, Manager of Government Affairs.