Rent controlled: How Grandma Pays the Blitzkrieg Rent

It’s every angry teenager’s dream to move to New York City. Watching Annie Hall, listening to the Ramones, buying a cordoruy suit … it’s all about romance until they pick up a free Apartment shopper’s guide and find out that it costs an average of 2000 dollars to rent a closet with bad wiring and a malfunctioning water heater. What happened to the dream of living shoulder-to-shoulder with America’s undiscovered twenty-somethings? What about all those movies where shaggy-haired poets and part-time bartenders have flats with hard-wood floors and track lighting? Why does grandma pay 400 dollars a month for her apartment? She lives next-door to Moby, for chrissakes!

The answer to questions one and two are: the Reagan years and Rudy Giuliani. The New York City you saw in Taxi Driver is gone. The answer to question three is rent control.

In New York City, rent control is also known as The War Emergency Tenant Protection Act. The war being referred to is World War II. That’s why grandma is getting the special treatment; rest assured, it is not because of her good nature and charm. She’s been living in that luxury investment continuously since before July 1, 1971. Way back before The Ramones, grandma moved into what was then considered a dump. She signed a lease that included a ceiling on how much her landlord can raise her rent. Also, she agreed to a clause that outlined her landlord’s responsibilities to the property. If the landlord fails to live up to these responsibilities, grandma can demand lower rent … and will most likely get her way in court. Why? Because back in those days, the Starbucks underneath grandma’s apartment that you find so charming was most likely a successful crack house, and your grandma’s landlord was desperate for tenants at a time where nobody was moving to SoHo.

What is frustrating for landlords, as well as the angry teenagers trying to get within eyesight of The Big Apple, is that most of these Rent Control agreements included clauses that could pass on the terms of their contract to family members that have lived with grandma for at least two months before her death. So, that’s why your deadbeat cousin, who seemed so sincere to help Grandma with that illness this year, may also end up chatting with Moby about how they need to do something about those hideously lit staircases next year. Yes, this is socialism.


Go East, young man! All 0.81% of you … to the wide open NYC renters market.
-courtesy of urbandigs.com

The CATO institute’s William Tucker explains that, “In many cities, policymakers understand that controls drive out residents and businesses. Thus many exempt significant portions of housing from controls, creating shadow markets. Yet as controls hold down rents for some units, costs for all other rental housing skyrockets. And tenants in rent-controlled units fear moving to more desirable neighborhoods since the only units available for rent are very high-priced.”

Walter Block writes in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics: “Economists are virtually unanimous in the conclusion that rent controls are destructive. In a late-seventies poll of 211 economists published in the May 1979 issue of American Economic Review, slightly more than 98 percent of U.S. respondents agreed that “a ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.”

Some people argue that rent control is essential to protect vulnerable citizens from unlawful eviction. These concerns are valid. Metcouncil.net explains that rent control expands the rights of tenants: “Among these rights is the right of remaining family members – including “nontraditional” families such as gay or unmarried heterosexual partners – to inherit or succeed to the tenancy under certain circumstances upon the departure of the tenant of record.”

Whatever way you look at the issue, it is important to know why grandma holds on to that cozy little brownstone and why Moby pays 12 times more for the same brownstone. It is important to know your rights as a tenant, especially as affordable housing continues to disappear. Before moving into your apartment building, be sure to speak with other tenants who have been living there first. Research the history of the building. Who knows? Maybe your friend’s grandma sublets in the winter! Money spends quick in Miami.

Tags: jeffrey hill, miami, rent control, 1960s, cato institute, 1970s, metcouncil.net, war emergency tenant protection act