Rent Control: When Will Oregon’s Legislators Learn?

“Next to bombing, rent control is the most effective technique so far known for destroying cities.”   Assar Lindbeck, Professor of Economics

During the French Revolution, the National Convention, an attempt at a national legislature, passed the Law of the Maximum imposing a maximum price on dozens of essential goods, mostly food items. The limitations discouraged farmers and producers. They began producing less or hoarding what they did produce, rather than selling food below its real value. Less food made its way into the towns and cities, which only exacerbated the shortages and led to the emergence of a thriving black market 

This is what happens when governments take actions that contradict economic realities.

Welcome to the Oregon legislature and rent control. 

Oregon started down this road in 2019 with a law prohibiting landlords across the state from raising rents more than 7 percent per year, plus the annual change in the consumer price index (CPI). The limit only applies to buildings that are more than 15 years old.

Not willing to leave bad enough alone, now the legislature is back with Senate Bill 611 that would limit annual rent increases to 3% plus inflation or 8% total, whichever is lower. The exemption would apply to buildings 3 years old or newer. Landlords would also have to cover three months’ rent if a tenant has to relocate through no fault of their own, up from the current requirement of one month of rental assistance for a no-fault eviction.

This foolishness is what you get when Oregon’s Democrats are left in charge. 

The problem is, no matter how much liberals embrace the concept, rent control doesn’t work. Any short-term benefits, including the applause of some constituents, are always overshadowed by the long-term problems rent control creates.

  • Landlords who can’t raise the rent on their property to a market price are more likely to cut back on maintenance and less likely to invest in improvements. Not only will landlords have absolutely no economic incentive to invest more in their properties, they may not even have the funds because of limits on their rental income.
  • Rent control distorts the housing market by misallocating rental units to those who are already renting them. Whenever government prevents the charging of prices high enough to clear the market, shortages will occur.
  • The imposition of rent control can lead to a “demolition derby” where older controlled rental units are purposely torn down and replaced with higher priced units.
  • Rent control does not guarantee low rents because it doesn’t regulate the starting rent for a new tenant. When a tenant in a rent-controlled unit moves out, any savvy landlord will set the rent in the new lease at the current market rent, which is likely to be much higher.
  • In a review of 140 economics studies on rent control in Economics Journal Watch, economists overwhelmingly agreed that, “A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.” From the abstract: “I find that the preponderance of the literature points toward the conclusion that rent control introduces inefficiencies in housing markets. Moreover, the literature on the whole does not sustain any plausible redemption in terms of redistribution.”
  • A broad survey of economists by the IGM (Initiative on Global Markets) Forum revealed a similar repudiation of rent control. The Forum is a program of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “Rent control discourages supply of rental units,” said Associate Head of the MIT Department of Economics, David Autor. “Incumbent renters benefit from capped prices. New renters face reduced rental options.”
  • Once rent control is imposed, it is extremely hard to get rid of, even where its futility is eventually recognized. That’s because rent control will have held rents far below the market rate, so removing them is likely to cause immediate and substantial rent increases, something few politicians (and even some rent control critics) will be willing to embrace in the face of a potential public outcry.

The bill has the support numerous progressive and social welfare groups, including the Southern Oregon social justice nonprofit Rogue Action Center, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, The United Way of the Columbia Willamette and The Pacific Green Party, all of which have apparently deluded themselves into thinking social justice concerns override economic realities.

Rent control supporters claim its the quickest and easiest way to provide relief to renters in danger of being priced out of their home, but the fact is it just makes the problem worse.

When will liberal legislators learn?


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