RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia Senate panel opted to ask for a study on rent control instead of advancing a bill that would have allowed cities and counties to set limits on price hikes from landlords.
The chamber’s General Laws and Technology Committee voted down the measure sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) with plans to ask the Virginia Housing Commission — a panel made up of eight lawmakers and three citizens — to study rent stabilization.
“We know that rents have dramatically risen in the commonwealth over the past several years,” Sen. Boysko said when introducing the bill Wednesday. “The average rents in Virginia increased by more than 10 percent in 2022 alone, and more than double that, 20 percent, in some localities.”
Sen. Boysko’s bill proposed to give localities the option to pass ordinances that prevent landlords from hiking rents above the annual increase in its region’s consumer price index over a year.
Under the bill, localities could have required landlords to give tenants up to two months’ written notice of an increase. The measure provided exceptions for some rental facilities, including school dorms and nursing homes.
Localities that adopted a rent control ordinance would have been able to fine landlords up to $2,500 for each violation.
In her remarks, Boysko pointed much of the blame on large financial firms and hedge funds that have bought properties in Virginia and increased rent prices.
The senator, advocates and tenants spoke about the impact of surging rents, including households facing evictions, resorting to living in unsafe, overcrowded spaces and being unhoused.
The recommendation for a study came from state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who called it a “significant” issue but shared concerns that the proposal could keep landlords from paying for maintenance needs or changes.
“I’m sympathetic, I have a lot of constituents, including some who spoke about the high cost of housing, and I’ve got a lot rental housing in my district,” Sen. Ebbin said Wednesday. “But I’m wondering if we’re going to limit them to consumer price index, if you have a apartment complex, particularly a large one that needs some kind of major renovations or wants to upgrade, that you’re really kind of handcuffing them.”
One Republican on the committee, Sen. Richard Stuart (R-King George), made his opposition to the proposal clear, claiming it is the “worst way to improve living conditions” for tenants because apartment buildings would “fall into slums.”
“Rent control is probably one of the worst ideas you can introduce into the state of Virginia, and I hope we don’t even study it,” Sen. Stuart told the panel.
The bill provided a path for landlords to apply for an exemption when the rental facility’s net operating income “has not been maintained due to escalating operating expenses or for other appropriate reasons as established by the locality.”
Boysko said this provision would act as a “safety mechanism” to protect against concerns that buildings would go into disrepair if localities could implement rent control rules.
Once it came to vote, Sen. Stuart called for the measure to be “passed by indefinitely,” effectively killing the proposal for the legislative session.
While the bill was still killed, a motion was added to send the Virginia Housing Commission a letter asking for a rent control study and subsequent report to be sent to the General Assembly.