With rents soaring, CT officials could soon consider a cap on rental hikes

After raising the rent budget for many people renewing apartment leases this year, Connecticut lawmakers are weighing the possibility of a law that would prevent excessive increases across the state, with a pair of West Coast states that provide a template of how it might be done.

At the request of a legislator, analyzed the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research Connecticut’s existing laws to limit rent increases. While formal accounts don’t always emerge from OLR studies, this scenario occurred last year when an OLR analysis of state rent controls served as a precursor to legislation addressing the issue.

The Connecticut General Assembly did not vote on the bill after a hearing in the Housing Committee; nor one that would have authorized state funding for a formal study of excessive rent increases, sponsored by Rep. David Michel, D-Stamford.

“I hope the housing committee will take up legislative efforts to fix this,” Michel said Friday in an emailed response to an inquiry. “Landlords have been raising rental rates in recent months and years, which I see as a major factor in the inflation we’re seeing right now.”

This has coincided with a historic increase in home sale prices in Connecticut and nationally, as families abandoned city life for the suburbs during the pandemic. On Thursday, the National Association of Realtors reported a housing affordability index at its lowest level since 1989.

There is precedent for a state law, after Oregon passed one in 2019 that limited rent increases that landlords could impose there to 7 percent for units built at least 15 years ago, along with additional amounts representing the inflation With these adjustments, Oregon landlords are limited to a 9.9 percent increase in rents this year.

California followed suit the following year with a cap of 5 percent plus inflation for qualified apartments not already subject to local rental ordinances; while Oregon’s law is permanent, California lawmakers set an expiration date of 2030.

Outside of a patchwork of “fair rent” commissions in just over 20 municipalities, Connecticut tenants have few recourses to challenge landlords’ excessive rent increases, although they can sue in the Connecticut Superior Court if they feel they are being subject to discriminatory or retaliatory actions.

In considering cases, fair rent commissions may take into account rents of comparable units or buildings; the size or frequency of increases; and whether the owners are reinvesting the money in building improvements.

In April, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a law requiring all cities with populations above 25,000 to create ordinances by July 2023 mandating fair rental fees, with those below that exempt cut The law has no penalty for municipalities that choose not to comply, however.

The first selectman of Greenwich having rejected the mandate of the fair rent commission as “a question of fairness” in his words, citing the scenario where a landlord would see costs rise in a single year past what would be covered by rents at the cap imposed by a fair rent commission.

New Haven apartment owner Maribeth Shields spoke out against the legislation in March, arguing it would hurt “mom and pop” homeowners like her, who have seen the costs of specific services outpace general inflation . She said she was forced to sell one of her properties at a loss during the pandemic, after Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order banning evictions during the health and economic emergency.

“I haven’t raised the rent and I’m trying not to, but it’s getting to a breaking point,” Shields told Housing Committee members during a public hearing in March. “Every company was allowed to raise their rates ridiculously, and we were [offer] free utilities We pay for materials and contractors, and their rates are through the roof.”

Includes previous reporting by Ken Borsuk, Daniel Figueroa IV and Nicole Funaro.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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