If you live in a rent control city or county, which may include some counties in California, Washington, DC, New Jersey, New York and Maryland, you probably know there are restrictions governing your ability to terminate a month-to-month rental or lease agreement in these areas. Some of the largest cities in the California including San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Mountain View, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Newark, California also have “rent stabilization” or “maximum rent regulation” laws, which are local rent control ordinances.
Rent control ordinances generally protect tenants by restricting the amount rent can be increased in any given year and provide other tenant protections regarding evictions and security deposits. Coupled with most rent control laws are eviction control laws, which limit evictions to “just cause” only.
Which Types of Properties are Subject to Rent Control?
If you live in a city that implements rent control, your property is not automatically subject to rent control. Owner-occupied buildings with four units or less, single-family houses, luxury units and new buildings are often exempt from these laws.
There are generally two types of rent control: one that regulates a property over a period of time, regardless of tenancy (called “vacancy control”), and one that protects only the current tenants (called “vacancy decontrol”).
Most rent control areas have vacancy decontrol statutes, which means the landlord can raise the rent to any level between tenants. Also called “vacancy rent ceiling adjustment,” this law states that the rent control applies to the rental unit while the specific tenants are still living there. So if a tenant moves out or is evicted, the rent control is only back in effect once the landlord sets the rent for the new tenant. There is a state law that covers all of California ensuring that owners of single family homes can set rents for new tenancies at any amount they choose.
Vacancy control statutes control the rent in a unit even between tenants. The rent is set by a board who calculates the rate based on several factors including the landlord’s expenses, previous rental rates, inflation and supply and demand. Though rents may sometimes be increased due to factors like inflation, the landlord cannot raise the rent to market levels even between tenants.
What if I Need to Evict in a Rent Control Area?
When in a rent control area, often there are more restrictions on eviction than in other areas, especially if it is a vacancy decontrol situation. To prevent a landlord from evicting a tenant just to be able to raise the rent, laws have been established to make the landlord show “just cause” for an eviction. Landlords should keep in mind that eviction control laws often apply to properties to which rent control does not.
“Just cause” for an eviction in a rent control area may include the tenant engaging in illegal activities, such as drug dealing, damage to the property or disturbing the neighbors repeatedly. Violating terms of the lease or rental agreement are also grounds for a just cause eviction, including failing to pay rent or having unauthorized people living in the unit. If you as the landlord would like to remodel the property and need it vacated for those purposes, just cause may also be justified.
If you violate the just cause eviction laws you may be subject to a civil lawsuit or even criminal penalties, so be sure you know and follow the law in your area to avoid further issues.
For more information about the rent control laws where you live, check with your local rent control board or call our office to get more information about landlord and tenant law.