Manual Concise Encyclopedia of Real Estate Business Terms

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Concise Encyclopedia of Real Estate Business Terms Information

Instead, everything else under the sun in the real estate market has been built: condominiums, office towers, hotels, warehouses, commercial space. Because such investments have never been subject to rent controls, and no one fears that they ever will be. It is no accident that these facilities boast healthy vacancy rates and only slowly increasing rental rates, while residential space suffers from a virtual zero vacancy rate and skyrocketing prices in the uncontrolled sector.

Evidence for this is seen in the comparative vacancy rates for residential and commercial real estate; exceedingly small in the former case, reaching double-digit levels in the latter. Although many rent-control ordinances specifically exempt new rental units from coverage, investors are too cautious perhaps too smart to put their faith in rental housing.

In numerous cases housing units supposedly exempt forever from controls were nevertheless brought under the provisions of this law due to some "emergency" or other.


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New York City's government, for example, has three times broken its promise to exempt new or vacant units from control. So prevalent is this practice of rent-control authorities that a new term has been invented to describe it: "recapture. It has led to decay and abandonment throughout the entire five boroughs of the city.

Although hard statistics on abandonments are not available, William Tucker reports estimates that about thirty thousand New York apartments were abandoned annually from to , a loss of almost a third of a million units in this eleven-year period. Thanks to rent control, and to potential investors' rational fear that rent control will become even more stringent, no sensible investor will build rental housing unsubsidized by government.

Effects on Tenants Existing rental units fare poorly under rent control. Even with the best will in the world, the landlord cannot afford to pay his escalating fuel, labor, and materials bills, to say nothing of refinancing his mortgage, out of the rent increase he can legally charge. And under rent controls he lacks the best will; the incentive he had under free-market conditions to supply tenant services is severely reduced. The sitting tenant is "protected" by rent control but, in many cases, receives no real rental bargain because of improper maintenance, poor repairs and painting, and grudging provision of services.

The enjoyment he can derive out of his dwelling space ultimately tends to be reduced to a level commensurate with his controlled rent. There are exceptions to this general rule.

Effects on Tenants

Many tenants, usually rich ones who are politically connected, or who were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, can gain a lot from rent control. Tenants in some of the nicest neighborhoods in New York City pay a scandalously small fraction of the market price of their apartments.

Some people in this fortunate position use their apartments like a hotel room, visiting only a few times per year. Then there is the "old lady effect.

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Rent Control

One by one the children grow up, marry, and move elsewhere. The husband dies. Now the lady is left with a gigantic apartment.


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  • She uses only two or three of the rooms and, to save on heating and cleaning, closes off the remainder. Without rent control she would move to a smaller accommodation.

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    But rent control makes that option unattractive. Needless to say, these practices further exacerbate the housing crisis. Repeal of rent control would free up thousands of rooms very quickly, dampening the impetus toward vastly higher rents. What determines whether or not a tenant benefits from rent control? If the building in which he lives is in a good neighborhood, where rents would rise appreciably if rent control were repealed, then the landlord has an incentive to maintain the building against the prospect of that happy day.

    This incentive is enhanced if there are many decontrolled units in the building due to "vacancy decontrol" when tenants move out or privately owned condominiums for whom the landlord must provide adequate services. Then the tenant who pays the scandalously low rent may "free-ride" on his neighbors. But in the more typical case the quality of housing services tends to reflect rental payments.