Last May, when lawmakers on Beacon Hill proposed removing a ban on rent control, reactions were mixed.
Some tenants, who struggled to pay rent during a dismal economic year, were happy with the idea that the government could regulate competitive costs that were pricing them out of their neighborhoods. Some landlords greatly opposed the idea, calling it an unfair measure that would hurt people who’ve staked their livelihoods on their properties.
In the past year, renters and landlords faced different hardships. Massachusetts ranked 12th in the country for the highest unemployment rate in February. A state-level moratorium protected tenants from eviction during a part of the pandemic but expired in October 2020. A federal moratorium is in place until June 30. Last week, a federal judge ruled to end the moratorium but reinstated it while the Department of Justice appeals the decision. Even with the bans in place, eviction filings among communities of color increased in the state. With employees continuing to work remotely, some renters backed away from cities, creating vacancies for landlords and property owners.
We asked Boston.com readers in a recent survey whether the state should bring back rent control. The result? More than 400 readers, many of whom identified as landlords and property owners, responded with an overwhelming vote.
A majority, 63 percent of respondents, said “no,” they do not support rent control. Thirty-four percent said they support it, while only 3 percent fell in the middle, saying it “depends.” Of the responses, we had both renters and landlords write in on each side of the argument.
Some renters who do not support it wondered whether rent control would de-incentivize landlords to maintain their properties. Some landlords do support rent control, acknowledging that the housing crisis and affordability in the state have gotten out of hand. Some disagreed over whether housing is a human right or a privilege, while others recalled their own experiences from the 1980s when rent-controlled apartments were in place.
Here’s a roundup of what readers had to say about bringing back rent control in Massachusetts.
Responses have been edited for clarity.
“Landlords won’t take care of rent-controled property and it will make other rentals more expensive.” — Sean, renter in Quincy
“The government has no business telling me what I can charge for my one property, and has no business telling me I have to accept non-paying clients.” — Mike, owner in Lunenburg
“Rent control will be the the final and fatal blow to mom & pop landlords following a devastating year. Small landlords provide the majority of affordable housing stock, often with razor-thin profit margins, or none at all. We walk among you, we are your coworkers, friends, and grandma and grandpas. We have banked our life’s savings and retirement on one or two rental real estate properties. Why has society decided we should be the small group of individuals to lose all we have worked for and bear the societal burden of the pandemic?” — Kim, a “mom & pop landlord”
“Absolutely not. History shows that rent control both results in a reduction in the overall availability of units for rent, and it also discourages rental property owners from making improvements to their property. It is good intention to run amok that produces the exact opposite of what is intended.” — Andrew, renter in Quincy
“We’re running out of ‘free’ stuff to give people. It’s got to stop somewhere. Free housing is not a human right.”
“Expand public transit — so renters have the option to live further afield where rents are cheaper. Do not punish landlords. Property owning is expensive and already over-regulated. Rent control would push small individual owners out leaving only big players.” — Tom, homeowner in Western Massachusetts
“I lived in a rent-controled apartment with three others in Cambridge during the 1990s. It was rundown and infested with cockroaches. Our landlord lived in Wayland. On the few occasions we complained he said that if he had to fix anything he would go to the rent control board and increase our rent. A roommate who had lived there longer than me said that this was true and had happened once before. Like many policies, rent control is good in theory. But it was abused by landlords and attempts to reform rent control were never passed. So it was finally eliminated.” — Rachel Donham, Holliston
“There need to be limits on how much profit can be made on life necessities like a roof over one’s head. Prices need to be what an average working person can afford.” — Richard, renter in Belmont
“Rent control should be decided by voters in each community based on local circumstances. The proposition where statewide voters made it illegal for communities to have their own policies was the worst travesty in my 45-year residence in Massachusetts.” — Paul, homeowner in Framingham, previously rented and was a landlord
“I own and also rent. I can afford both because I am a lucky/thankful guy, but most can’t rent without jumping through hoops. Rent control would be the savior of many and would be fun to watch investors cry.” — Jake, renter and owner in Suffolk County
“Commercial landlords and real estate speculation are driving tenants out of their homes and keeping housing unaffordable for tenants and small-time landlords equally. By instituting rent control, locals have a chance at avoiding eviction” — Kay, homeowner in Braintree
“Rents in the Greater Boston area are some of the highest in the nation. Skyrocketing prices, fueled by an excess of high-end luxury development, are increasingly pushing out not just low-income residents and workers, but the middle class as well. Unlimited increases are not sustainable — controls need to be put in place. As the bubble gets bigger, the inevitable pop gets scarier and scarier. Rent control was devised in situations of inflation just like what we’ve experienced in this market in recent years- we should be smart and recognize that while some developers and high-end landlords may lose some money at the front end it will be better for them and everyone else in the long run.” — Nic, homeowner in Salem
“Absolutely should. I’ll be honest, I’m fortunate in the sense of having a steady, stable job in a great sector. However, the rent in this city/state strips people away from any sort of decent home life, especially when you can’t afford a home because Massachusetts is not a cheap place to live. First, last, security, broker fee. All of it can easily add up to a quick $10,000 deposit for something you don’t even own and maybe, maybe, have a functional closet or washer/dryer in the building. It comes to a point where you have to ask: Is it even worth it anymore? I know I’ve asked myself that. Point being, call it rent control or just setting up policy to make it easier for people to just get the foot in the door. There is an imbalance in this system and while MA has strong jobs for sure, housing is ultimately going to catch up to us soon enough.” — Michael, renter in East Boston
“Housing is a human right. I am a landlord (own a two-family in Easthampton). I was lucky that my tenants upstairs were both able to WFH. I couldn’t evict people in a pandemic. But I depend on that income for my own living expenses. I guess landlords need collective — state or municipal — protection. We don’t need to make a profit, but some of us depend on that income if our social security is very low or nonexistent.”
“I rent in Salem. Between my private student loans and rent prices I haven’t been able to live alone ever. I’m almost 40 and single and can’t not afford rent. To me this is embarrassing. I am a state employee and have a flourishing career but due to the increased rent and real estate prices, I feel I will never be fully independent.” — Gia, renter in Salem
“I’m not sure this process can be done fairly. There are ways for people to ‘skirt’ the rules, get housing they don’t deserve, and that leaves those in need out in the cold. That is how it was ‘back in the day.’ And the lack of oversight, nepotism and skewing of facts/income favors many who don’t deserve. If it truly helped those in need, that’s one thing. As we know, that’s not always the case.” — Robin, a homeowner in Dedham
“If the ban was placed, it should be reviewed for why it was put in effect in the first place. Additionally, a study should be performed at the state level to determine the effects of implementing rent control on the housing market to ensure it won’t cause more problems than it would solve before introducing legislation.” — Garrett, renter in Somerville
“Is rent control the best idea? No, but it’s better than the nothing we’re doing now. We have to do something about how crazy rent is. All our leaders have done is talked, and once again, they will furrow their brows at this plan then do nothing, as if there is some perfect plan out there that’s up next. Most politicians own homes, so they truly don’t get it. In fact, they get wealthier based on their restriction of the new, dense development we actually need almost everywhere within 128. Rent control is not ideal (breaking the back of every local zoning board fretting about ‘traffic’ or ‘parking’ is my ideal) but if nothing better is on the table, I’ll take rent control over nothing. Maybe it’ll scare local leadership into taking up a better solution to the housing affordability crisis.” — Stephen, renter in Allston
“There has to be a fair middle ground. Landlords should not be able to charge excessive rents nor should tenants get a free pass. I think the rent rate should reflect a fair slice of the cost to run the property, plus a little profit.” — Greg, homeowner in Norwood
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinions.