Guide for Rent Control Properties

Are you looking to invest in a rent-controlled property? With so many options on the market, it can be hard to know where to start. Here’s a guide designed for all types of investors—from seasoned professionals and new landlords alike—who are looking to navigate the world of commercial real estate and make informed decisions when selecting rent-controlled properties.

Whether you’re interested in an office space, this guide will provide some much-needed insight into all aspects of renting out these key properties. From understanding your potential tenants’ needs through researching local zoning laws and regulations, we’ll cover it all!

Rent control is a legal measure employed by states and local governments to set a maximum limit on the rental amount that landlords can charge. It also restricts the extent to which landlords can increase rent for current tenants. The specific provisions of this law are determined by each municipality and implemented through various caps.

Key Takeaways

  • There are legal and strategic methods available for landlords to recover costs, even in rent-controlled properties.
  • Rent control regulations can change, and staying informed is essential to avoid legal complications and maximize profit.
  • Understanding the intricacies of rent control in LA is crucial for landlords to navigate cost recovery effectively.
Guide for Rent Control Properties

Understanding Rent Control in LA

Rent control can either work in your favor or against you.

These regulations have often been a challenge for landlords who would prefer to charge higher rents and a potential safeguard for tenants who struggle with steep rent increases. However, the existence of rent control is not solely about protecting vulnerable renters, as it has been used historically to address other concerns.

Over 80 years ago, Los Angeles implemented a strict form of modern rent control during World War II. As industrial employment soared, people flocked to the city in search of jobs, leading to a severe housing shortage. The combination of an increasing population and the war effort resulted in a housing crisis that lasted for years.

Approximately 15,000 residential projects were left incomplete due to labor and supplies being redirected to the war effort, as reported by the UCLA Luskin Center. High demand combined with inadequate housing forced many to endure overcrowded living conditions.

The dire situation prompted the federal government to impose a rent freeze (and other price controls) in 1942 to maintain affordability for essential goods. According to Alisa Belinkoff Katz, the lead author of a UCLA study on rent control in L.A., this measure contributed to making rent control more acceptable to landlords, considering it part of the war effort.

However, landlord support for rent control eventually waned. In response to claims that the rent cap was too low for them to cover taxes and maintenance, some landlords even threatened to remove their rentals from the market. After the war, the L.A. City Council voted to lift rent control, and residential rent prices were again subject to market forces.

In the 1970s, the city faced a different problem: stagflation due to the oil crisis, which led to high inflation and slow economic growth. Home prices in L.A. soared, increasing property tax bills for homeowners. In response, Howard Jarvis, then-executive director of the L.A. County apartment association, championed 1978’s Proposition 13 to cap property tax rates.

In order to garner renter support, landlords campaigned for Proposition 13 by claiming that tax bill reductions would ultimately benefit tenants. Some even offered rent rebates if the measure succeeded. However, after the proposition’s approval, many landlords continued to raise rents, with some increasing them by over 20% that same year.

In reality, Proposition 13 served as a form of rent control for landlords by lowering their property taxes and limiting increases, despite their claims that they would pass the savings onto tenants.

Removing vacancy control places low rent, long-term properties under notable pressure, according to Gross. “Should landlords manage to evict these tenants, they have the liberty to increase the rents considerably,” he said.

The act further banned rent control on residential properties constructed post Feb. 1, 1995, excluded standalone houses and condominiums from its purview, and generally limited the abilities of city leaders. “It solidified pre-existing local rent control laws,” Katz noted. “It profoundly affected what local governments had the power to do in safeguarding renters in their regions.”

Fast forward to 2019: The Tenant Protection Act established a yearly adjustable cap on rent increases across the state, devised to avert drastic hikes. Also, the state of California stands set to hold a vote in 2024 on rent control, making it the third instance of such an event taking place.

The Basics of Cost Recovery

Cost recovery refers to the ability for landlords to recoup costs related to property maintenance, renovations, and improvements by bolstering rental prices accordingly. This is vital for the financial sustainability of their real estate investments, particularly in the context of rent-controlled properties where rental increases are typically limited by law.

In rent-controlled jurisdictions, landlords must follow certain regulations to recover these costs. Ensuring the continual upkeep and enhancement of a property, while also maintaining profitability, requires strategic management of cost recovery.

Different Methods of Cost Recovery for Landlords

  1. Capital Improvement Pass-Through: This method allows landlords to pass a part of the cost of major renovations or improvements directly onto the tenants. The rent increase is usually capped and spread out over a predetermined number of years to decrease the financial burden on the tenants.
  2. Operating Expense Pass-Through: In certain jurisdictions, it’s possible for landlords to pass through some of the increased operating costs to their tenants. These could include costs due to inflation (like utilities or property taxes) or new costs that are beyond the landlord’s control.
  3. Hardship Applications: If cost recovery through the normal means is insufficient and causes financial distress to landlords, they can file a hardship application. This would grant them allowances to increase rents over the permitted limits, but it is often subject to stringent prerequisites.
  4. Vacancy Decontrol: For properties under rent control, landlords often can increase rent based on market rates when a tenant voluntarily vacates the property. This practice, known as vacancy decontrol, provides landlords with an opportunity to adjust their rents closer to current market values.
  5. Cost Recovery Surcharge: This method necessitates an additional fee or surcharge on the rent to recover specific costs. For example, in some jurisdictions, landlords who adhere to rent control regulations may apply a cost recovery surcharge for specific governmental programs or services.

It’s important to note that these methods can vary based on local regulations. Therefore, it’s crucial for landlords to familiarize themselves with the rent control laws applicable to their locale.

Challenges Faced by Landlords in Rent-Controlled Properties

Rent control can greatly impact landlords’ ability to manage their properties effectively and achieve desired returns on investment. This guide outlines the major challenges faced by landlords in rent-controlled properties and provides ways to navigate them.

Limitations on Rent Increases

In rent-controlled properties, rent hikes are typically regulated by local laws, thus limiting the landlord’s ability to raise rents frequently or significantly. Staying up-to-date with local rent control ordinances and understanding how they affect the prices of rental units is crucial to maintaining profitability.


  • Review and follow local rent control laws.
  • Use legal cost recovery methods as discussed earlier to offset expenses.
  • Focus on long-term property value appreciation to compensate for limited rent increases.

Maintenance and Repair Costs

Landlords are responsible for maintaining and repairing their properties while adhering to health and safety standards as well as local laws. In rent-controlled settings, covering the expenses for these tasks can be challenging due to constraints on rental income.


  • Regularly inspect and maintain properties to avoid costly emergency repairs.
  • Utilize capital improvement and operating expense pass-through methods, where permissible.
  • Be resourceful with maintenance work, obtaining multiple quotes, and opting for cost-effective solutions.

Tenant Rights and Protections

Tenants in rent-controlled properties usually enjoy added legal protections, which can create complications for landlords aiming to evict them or repossess a property for other purposes.


  • Stay well-informed about the rights and protections of tenants under rent control.
  • Resolve conflicts and address tenant concerns proactively to minimize tensions and legal disputes.
  • Consult with an attorney specializing in landlord-tenant law should any complications arise.

By understanding these challenges and adopting effective strategies, landlords of rent-controlled properties can successfully navigate the limitations imposed by rent control and ensure their property investments remain profitable and well-managed.

I invite you to read my article on implementing profitable strategies within rent control limits. This comprehensive piece offers valuable insights and practical tips to aid landlords in navigating challenges and maximizing returns within a rent-controlled environment. Discover new opportunities in the real estate market and deepen your understanding of this topic.

Strategies for Cost Recovery in Rent-Controlled Properties

Navigating the complexities of rent-controlled properties requires intricate knowledge of local laws and ordinances along with effective strategy execution. Here are some strategies that can be employed to ensure cost recovery under rent control frameworks.

Legal Rent Increases and Justifications

While rent increases are limited in rent-controlled properties, there are legally acceptable reasons for such hikes:

  1. Annual Rent Increases: Most rent control laws permit a certain percentage of rent increase annually, typically calculated based on inflation or the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
  2. Banked Rent Increase: Some jurisdictions allow landlords to ‘bank’ annual increases, meaning if they opt not to increase rent in a particular year, they can apply the unused increase in a subsequent year.
  3. Utility Pass-Through: If landlords pay for utilities like heat, water, or garbage collection, they may be able to increase rent to offset rising utility costs.

Passing on Capital Improvement Costs

Landlords can often pass on a portion of the expenses related to substantial property upgrades or renovations – known as capital improvement costs – to tenants. There are generally defined limitations on how much can be passed on and in what time frame.

Key Points:

  • The improvements should typically be substantial or major, not routine maintenance or repairs.
  • Landlords must often provide proof of the costs incurred, such as receipts or invoices.
  • It’s essential to notify tenants in writing about the planned improvements and resulting rent increases.

Temporary Relocation Benefits

When major repairs or renovations make a rental unit temporarily uninhabitable, the landlord may be able to recover the costs of providing temporary housing for tenants. Alternatively, landlords may opt to give rent reductions or waivers during this period.

Key Points:

  • The allowance or requirement to provide relocation benefits varies by jurisdiction.
  • Relocation benefits might involve compensation for moving costs, lodging expenses, and other inconvenience-related costs.
  • Carefully documenting costs and complying with local laws is key to successfully recovering these costs.

Being proactive about cost recovery strategies can help landlords mitigate the financial impacts of maintaining rent-controlled properties. Still, it’s always recommended to consult with an attorney or local housing authority to understand the specific rules of one’s jurisdiction.

Avoiding Pitfalls and Legal Complications

Successfully navigating the terrain of rent-controlled properties involves avoiding potential mistakes and ensuring compliance with constantly evolving regulations. Here’s a guide to assist landlords in dodging common pitfalls and steering clear of legal troubles.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Illegal Rent Increases: Many landlords fall into the trap of illegitimate rent inflations. It’s imperative to fully understand the limitations on rent increases and never attempt to overstep legal boundaries.

Solution: Always follow local rent control laws and justify each rent increase with valid reasons such as capital improvement costs, CPI-based increases, or utility pass-through.

Neglecting Maintenance and Repairs: Landlords occasionally overlook the necessity of routine maintenance or delay necessary repairs. This could lead to costly emergencies or possible legal troubles with tenants.

Solution: Regularly inspect properties and engage in preventative maintenance to ensure properties remain habitable and attractive to tenants.

Disregarding Tenant Rights: Not being mindful of tenant protections and rights can lead to litigation.

Solution: Familiarize yourself with tenant rights under rent control in your locale and treat tenants fairly and respectfully. Seek legal advice if you are unsure of these rights.

Seeking Legal Advice and Staying Updated on Regulations

Staying compliant with regulations and regional ordinances is key to avoid legal complications. This is where legal professionals can be most beneficial.

Benefits of Legal Counsel:

  • Expertise: Landlord-tenant attorneys are experts in rent control laws and can provide valuable insights and guidance.
  • Prevention of Legal Issues: With their knowledge, these professionals can foresee potential legal challenges and offer advice to prevent complications.
  • Representation in Legal Matters: Should any legal disputes arise, an experienced attorney will provide crucial support and representation.

Additionally, laws regarding rent-controlled properties can change frequently. Hence, regularly stay informed by:

  • Subscribing to updates from local housing authorities.
  • Attending landlord-tenant related seminars and workshops.
  • Joining landlord associations that offer regular updates on legal changes.

By understanding common pitfalls, seeking legal advice, and staying updated on regulations, landlords can weather the challenges of managing rent-controlled properties and ensure a smooth and profitable operation.

Why Rent Control is a Disadvantage

Diminishing Motivation for Commercial Real Estate Upgrades

Property owners commonly enhance their Commercial Real Estate (CRE) by updating appliances and other features, aiming to retain existing tenants or attract new ones. As these modifications tend to increase the rental value, landlords can potentially adjust their rent charges in response to these improvements. Having additional amenities, like a pool or extra parking space, typically follows the same logic.

However, the existence of rent control laws significantly dims the motivation for such upgrades. For instance, even if a landlord invests in new stainless-steel kitchen appliances or new carpeting, the maximum allowable rent increments remain bound by the stated annual legal boundaries, despite the recent enhancements.

Landlords, therefore, may prefer to maintain existing appliances until they are unusable before considering a replacement of similar or lower quality.

Rental Rates Falling Short of Market Value

Properties under rent control often end up generating rental income below market value. The longer a unit adheres to rent control, the more noticeable the income gap becomes – negatively impacting the landlords’ financial gains from their properties. This is a considerable obstacle considering the long-term financial benefits traditionally associated with real estate investment, which becomes relatively limited due to the rent cap.

Rent control also has potential unpleasant side effects for property upkeep. Limited rental income may restrain landlords from promptly attending to necessary property maintenance, opting instead to postpone such tasks as long as possible. Vacancy-associated repairs and regular property enhancements could eat into the limited monthly rental income.

Predominantly Older Buildings Under Rent Control

Tenants should be aware that rent control typically applies to older properties – hence they might lack certain amenities compared to non-rent controlled units. Most laws governing rent control target units constructed before 1985. Therefore, tenants desiring newly-built or thoroughly upgraded apartments may be out of luck.

Rent Control Laws Discourage New Construction

The introduction of rent control laws can deter investors and developers from initiating new housing projects. If the law is set to impact the units they plan to build, many may ponder the point of beginning construction as their pricing flexibility diminishes. Additionally, due to restricted rental charges, it may take an extended period to recoup the construction costs and generate worthwhile revenue, making the venture seem less appealing.

according to research from the UCLA Luskin Center

Guide for Rent Control Properties FAQs

How does rent control work in the USA?

Rent control is a legal mechanism employed by states and local governments to impose a ceiling on the rental fees charged by landlords. It serves the purpose of restricting the extent to which landlords can increase the rent for their current tenants. The specific provisions and limitations of this regulation are determined by each municipality and are implemented accordingly.

Is there rent control in the U.S.?

Heading into 2023, the National Multifamily Housing Council monitored 23 states with rent control measures in progress. Despite this, no statewide measures or repeals have been implemented. However, a handful of states achieved success in bolstering preemption laws this year.

What is a rent-controlled commercial real estate in America?

Rent control is a term that refers to laws that limit the amount that landlords can increase the rental rates of their properties. Some cities have rent control laws, but only for certain types of properties and tenants. Rent control laws vary from city to city and state to state.

How much can landlords raise rent in states without rent control?

The rental prices vary depending on the area. Without rent control, there are no limits, as stated by Andrew Scherer, a professor at New York Law School and author. In unregulated housing, landlords have the freedom to set any rental amount they desire, according to Professor Scherer.

Is it legal to raise rent in the US?

Generally, landlords have the discretion to increase rents by any amount they deem appropriate, provided they give their tenants adequate notice (typically 30 days). However, in certain locations where rents are already high or housing is scarce, state and local regulations may impose limitations on rent hikes.

Is there rent control in Los Angeles?

California, in late 2019, became the second state following Oregon to pass a statewide rent control law. The law applies to all multi-family rental units constructed more than 15 years ago. Additionally, the state law applies in addition to any more stringent local ordinances.

What could be a disadvantage to the landlord of an increased rent?

Excessive rent increases could lead to higher tenant turnover, more vacancies, ill will towards landlord, lower occupancy, rent control violations, and less rental income if existing tenants move out. Moderation is key when raising rents to avoid these potential disadvantages.


Rent control is a complex subject that can be challenging for landlords to navigate. Even though the restrictions can make it difficult to recover costs, there are legal and strategic avenues available. It’s essential that landlords stay informed about current regulations and look into potential routes of profit recovery.

I have made it my mission to help empower landlords and property managers financially through rent control knowledge. If you feel overwhelmed or need assistance dealing with rent control issues on an LA-based property, call or schedule a free consultation with me here at Tolj commercial real estate and I will be happy to provide dedicated guidance tailored to your needs. Take action now and let me help you get the return on investment you deserve!

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