In February 2009, the New York State Assembly passed a legislative package to strengthen rent regulation laws. As the legislation awaits review by the State Senate, we look back on the history of rent regulation in New York.

Rent laws in the U.S. originated after the first World War, when a lack of adequate and affordable housing caused politicians to declare a “post-war emergency” and call for rent controls. In 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt reacted to another affordability crisis by signing an emergency rent control program. Rent regulations have continued to evolve since then, becoming state-run in 1950 and then city-run in 1962. Today, New York City is the only major U.S. city that continues to have strong rent regulations. CHPC’s archives contain many historical documents dating back to the 1930’s that highlight the conception and development of rent regulation and how the public was educated about it. We are including here some of the most fascinating gems we found in our archives, excerpts of which can be seen in the link below.

“Rent Control in War and Peace”: a 1939 CHPC Study
CHPC published this report, sponsored by the National Municipal League, in order to assess the housing shortage facing cities in the late 1930’s. CHPC stated that “in reviewing past rent control measures, [we have found] that none of the American attempts at regulation had a scientific basis nor well worked out principles.” Excerpts include “Th e Post-War Emergency,” a chapter on history of rent regulation after World War I, as well as CHPC’s recommendations for more effective, “modern” rent legislation.

Survey of Rents by the NY Temporary State Housing Rent Commission, 1950
Commissioned by New York State’s 1950 rent control legislation, this study by the newly created Temporary State Housing Rent Commission surveys the rents, living costs, and vacancy rates facing residents of New York state. Filled with beautifully designed graphs and charts, as well as detailed data, this document makes the case for continued rent control.

“An Analysis of Rent Control from the Tenants’ Viewpoint” by Walter Thabit, 1963
Renowned urban planner and community activist Walter Thabit prepared this study, in collaboration with a number of tenant groups such as Organized Tenants. The report describes how tenants, landlords, and the city each view rent control issues, argues for the continued need for rent control, and outlines how tenant groups can placate landlords who oppose rent regulation.

“The (New) Little Book on Rent Control,”1965
First published in 1956 by New York City’s Rent and Rehabilitation Administration, this charming booklet for tenants lays out the rules of rent control in plain terms.

Download a pdf of the full report here.