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Welcome to “Property Management Matters”


Property Management Matters and Property Management Tips have now merged.  Instead of having to check on two blog pages, you get all of the great original content in one convenient location.  All Property Management Tips have been moved to Property Management Matters so you won’t miss out on a single entry or posting!  reviews products, services and shares the ideas every rental property owner and manager needs to know about as real estate professionals and rental housing providers.  At Property Management Matters we are looking at the state of the industry - where has it been, where is it today and where is it going. 


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« Rental Market Survey - Your Opinion Needed Today! | Newest assault on San Francisco property owners comes from the Board of Supervisors »

Time to rewrite rent control?

Rent Control Economics 101

It is not a surprise that the benefits and costs of rent control are hotly contested and debated in San Francisco. Most tenants, especially those who are long term residents, will espouse the benefits of rent control concluding with the very real and very personal benefit:  “I couldn’t live here without it.”

But when you ask a rental property owner, you hear a very different story.

More often than not, a property owner will have a rent control horror story which often ends with the owner selling the building in frustration, taking their housing units off the market in protest, or out of fear, the payment to of thousands of dollars to a hostile and unappreciative residential tenant, merely for them to vacate the unit.

Rent Control Benefits

Still, there is no doubt that rent control in San Francisco has legitimate benefits to identifiable San Francisco renters. No doubt some of these renters need financial assistance. No doubt, some actually deserve it.  No doubt there are societal benefits that stem from rent control that should not be dismissed or overlooked.

The question is not can we find some good in rent control; of course we can find some good. The question to be asked of all of our social safety-net systems spawned before the turn of this Century is: could there be another, better way to get to the same, or even a better result?  

Narrow Cast Rent Control Benefits

A look at the available evidence leads down a road which suggests the current rent control system is outdated, inefficient and overkill in the new economy we face in 2010.  Like so many of the programs of the past, rent control as a “public policy” is ready for a major overhaul and improvement.  It is time for rent control to become surgical and to narrow cast the benefits, rather than broadcast the benefits.

The San Francisco rent control public safety net, which is entirely privately funded, is too wide, too deep and too inefficient. Like so many of the entitlement programs of the 1970s, it mis-allocates and overspends limited resources.

The current rent control system transfers resources to the entire general populace of renters, when only a few are in need.  Instead of providing $50 of assistance to a single needy resident, the current system takes that $50 and distributes it among 10 residents, irrespective of need. The deserving few are forced to share assistance benefits with renters who can and should take care of themselves.  Imagine food stamps for everyone, just because a few people deservedly need them?  It makes no sense and we can’t afford it.

Marketplace distortions 

In addition to the public transfer of private resources for a public good, rent control distorts the behavior of the market place.

Go to any free market city, even a desirable one with a tight housing supply like San Francisco, and you will find rent specials and promotions, as building owners attempt to entice customers into moving to their complex or building. 

Missing concessions

Now look at San Francisco. No promotions. No market incentives.  No negotiations.  No DEALS. The dynamic market is dead.  Why?   Because concessions- inducements- incentives- and negotiations can be and have been used against property owners to reduce the base rent of tenants. The result?

New San Francisco residents receive none of the typical market concessions we see in dynamic free markets. Concession dollars are reallocated in budgets by San Francisco owners to allow longer periods of vacancy.  Money that could be in the pockets of residents, remains locked inside the building.

Price reductions slow to occur

A related distortion is that rental rates are not lowered as quickly as they are in other cities. Go anywhere else and you will see a market that reacts in real time.  Rents are reduced –and discounted and adjusted sometimes daily and even hourly.  These market adjustments happen quickly, in prompt response to a changing market.  As a market slows, rental rates go down.  It if slows further, the rates go down further.  You will not find these consumer benefits in San Francisco.

In San Francisco you can see pricing stagnate week after week as owners refuse to drop pricing because it is permanently lost.  In todays environment of annual increases that are typically only $1 per thousand in rent, a $50 per month price decrease equates to a lifetime of rental increases. 

Do price controls work? The anecdotal evidence is lush with stories of inequities and problems. The academic literature indicates “no”.  A Goggle search comes up with paper after paper and research article warning of unintended consequences and market distortions resulting from price controls.  Economic models teach us price controls provide a short term solution at a significant long term cost. 

But for a real answer look at the San Francisco rental market. At times of increasing vacancy the San Francesco rental housing market does not react as a typical healthy free market.   But it could; it should; and it can.




Do you have an opinion about San Francisco rent control?  How would you improve the system?

Share you ideas through Comments.  



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