Lawmakers will consider new restrictions today on Connecticut landlords intended to provide stability to tenants by capping annual increases in the cost of rent and requiring three months’ notice before an increase goes into effect.
The legislature’s Housing Committee will hold a public hearing on two pieces of rent-related legislation. The bills are a small slice of more than a dozen similar proposals that lawmakers have proposed this session in an effort to stabilize housing costs in Connecticut.
One bill would restrict landlords from raising rent during a tenant’s first year of occupancy and during public health emergencies. It would also hold rent increases to an annual cap, calculated by the Housing Department, and require landlords to provide 90-days notice before implementing any increase.
A second bill would cap annual rent increases at mobile home parks to 4% plus the rate of inflation. The mobile home rent restrictions would apply during a public health emergency and the year immediately afterward.
The push to cap rent costs has the support of a coalition of tenants’ rights groups as well as housing and labor advocates, who point to recent hikes in housing costs and eviction rates, which have surged beyond pre-pandemic levels following the expiration of a moratorium that suppressed evictions in 2020 and 2021.
Advocates say a grassroots movement has grown in response to soaring rent rates around the state. In an interview Monday, Sarah White, a staff attorney with the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, said that rent has increased by an average of around 20% in the last two years.
“After a period of relatively stable rent we’re seeing really huge increases — that’s true both for apartments and mobile home lots,” White said. “People’s wages haven’t caught up with that and rent is increasingly becoming unaffordable to tenants.”
Last year, eviction filings exceeded 22,000, White said. That’s well above the 20,594 her center reported in 2017 and the 19,104 it reported in 2019 before the eviction moratorium reduced eviction filings to 6,430 a year later.
Today’s public hearing has prompted more than 160 pieces of written testimony with residents weighing in as both tenants and landlords. Shaquille Corniffe, a renter in Hamden, told the committee that recent rent increases have forced him to work up to seven days a week in order to afford his apartment.
“This unsustainable schedule doesn’t allow me enough time to rest and recoup, it has an effect on my body,” Corniffe wrote. “Every month I worry about not being able to pay my rent. Particularly because if you aren’t able to pay on time, the late fees are compounding.”
Landlords were among the more than 80 residents to submit testimony opposing the bills. They argue that rent control restrictions will only worsen Connecticut’s affordable housing crisis as property owners will increasingly leave the residential rental market if they are unable to recoup their own costs.
“Without the ability to increase rents to keep up with rising costs landlords have little incentive to improve the property, and builders are discouraged from creating new housing stock,” John Souza, president of the Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners, wrote.
Others, like Rocky Hill real estate agent Allan Smith, said that rent control policies would lead to a series of unintended consequences for Connecticut including landlords who are more selective of their potential tenants or who increase rent when they might not have otherwise.
“If they know they can only adjust rents a certain small amount every year, they will likely automatically increase it every year,” Smith wrote. “If they do not, they may be in a situation where they won’t be able to sell their property in the future for [its] highest value because the next owner will not be able to adjust the rents to meet the market rate.”
Only two states, California and Oregon, have statewide rent control policies on the books. Three others, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, allow local governments to enact their own rent control policies and, according to a 2021 Office of Legislative Research report, more than 200 municipalities have chosen to do so.
On Monday, White argued that in rent control jurisdictions that have experienced unintended consequences, the problems have stemmed from loopholes in the language of the laws.
“We have the opportunity to design a strong law that will do what it wants, which is to give tenants stability and affordability without having unintended consequences,” she said.