Once Rejected by Voters, Rent Control Back on the Table in Massachusetts

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/01/13/once-rejected-by-voters-rent-control-back-on-the-table-in-massachusetts/

Massachusetts voters shot it down 25 years ago, but some Democrats in the Massachusetts Legislature want rent control back.

A legislative committee on Beacon Hill plans to consider a bill on Tuesday, January 14 that would once again legalize rent control in the state. Called “An Act Enabling Local Options for Tenant Protections,” Massachusetts House Bill 3924 is chiefly sponsored by state Representatives Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge) and Nika C. Elugardo (D-Boston), members of the Legislature’s Progressive Caucus.

Supporters say tenants have few protections from landlords who want ever-higher rents from their properties, which they say is particularly troublesome in the current skyrocketing housing market in the Boston area.

“As it stands, our municipal officials are very limited by M.G.L. Ch. 40P in terms of what they can do to assist tenants who are at risk of displacement,” said Connolly, citing the Massachusetts Rent Control Prohibition Act, in an email message to New Boston Post. “Our bill, the Tenant Protection Act, would lift the statewide ban on rent control and empower municipal officials to bring everyone to the table – that means renters and owners alike – to craft solutions that make sense on the local level to help stop displacement.”

Select municipalities had rent control from 1970 to 1994, but Massachusetts voters made it illegal in a statewide referendum in 1994 (51.3% in favor of repealing).

Opponents of rent control say it restricts freedom of property and prevents landlords from realizing gain from taking the risk of buying homes. They also say it leads to housing shortages because landlords and developers provide build as much housing as they otherwise would because it isn’t profitable enough.

Douglas Quattrochi, executive director of MassLandlords Inc., told New Boston Post he is skeptical of the new proposal and said he thinks that Connolly and Elugardo are “unprepared to be crafting housing policy” after speaking with them about the proposal.

“They were not aware of the horrors of the rent control boards of the 1970s and 80s,” Quattrochi said in an email message. “I pointed them to the Bologna story, in which the Bolognas lost a property due to rent control unfairness, and the Petrillo story, in which Peter Petrillo died of a heart attack after receiving an unfair rent board order. The Representatives said they would read up.”

The Bologna family owned a multifamily home in Cambridge and their tenants, the Stowes, went to the city’s rent control board to demand all the units in it be subject to rent control according to MassLandlords. The Stowes then sued the Bologna family for overcharging them rent and received a $35,991.20 judgment on a case that cost the Bologna’s $28,019.61 in legal fees. The Bolognas appealed the case, lost, and spent an additional $30,000 in legal fees for the plaintiffs, all while not receiving rent for about five years.

Although Massachusetts voted away rent control in 1994, voters in cities like Cambridge (58.3%), Boston (53.2%) and Brookline (56.0%) voted to keep it as an option, according to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s web site.

Cambridge is the only community that still had a full rent control system in place by 1994, as Shelterforce reported in 1995. Lynn voters overwhelmingly repealed rent control in 1974 and Somerville did the same five years later. Brookline and Boston began decontrolling units in 1991 and 1974, respectively.

According to the left-leaning Brookings Institute, beneficiaries of rent control paid 40-plus percent below market rate as tenants. However, this greatly diminished the value of landlords’ properties — which increased by 45 percent once the state scrapped rent control.

Rent control reduced the rental-unit supply by 15 percent and made people 8 to 9 percent less likely to move, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research’s 2018 report on San Francisco.

According to a 2012 IGM Forum poll, just 2 percent of economists who responded thought rent control had had a positive impact on New York City and San Francisco, while 81 percent disagreed.

The Joint Committee on Housing of the Massachusetts Legislature has scheduled a hearing on the rent control bill and others at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, January 14 at Gardner Auditorium at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.