Colorado has had a statewide ban on rent control policies since 1981, when it was enacted in response to a citizen initiative in Boulder to allow rent-controlled housing. Now, in the face of an affordable housing crisis in Denver and across the state, lawmakers are considering a bill that would lift the ban, giving individual counties and municipalities the ability to enact rent control measures in their communities. The bill passed the Senate’s State, Veterans, & Military Affairs committee on April 15 and is now on its way to the full Senate. 

Here, we break down three questions about the proposed bill.

What is rent control?

Rent control is a policy that regulates the amount by which landlords can increase the rent on residential properties and places restrictions on evictions. If you’ve heard a story about your friend’s aunt who has lived in a San Francisco one-bedroom for the past several decades, paying $500 a month while similar units have evolved with the market and now go for upwards of $2,000, rent control is the policy that makes that possible.

It is generally accepted that rent-control policies improve the quality of life for tenants who benefit from them. In cities with tight housing markets and skyrocketing rents, tenants in rent-controlled units pay less money in rent and move less often. According to a study created in collaboration with PolicyLink, the Center for Popular Democracy, and the Right to the City Alliance, anecdotal evidence shows that rent-control policies give tenants a true stability that affords them opportunities to better their station in life. The same study also found that rent-control policies lessen the impacts of gentrification, preventing displacement of low-income and working-class residents of a neighborhood. 

Amanda Gonzales, a landlord who owns two residential properties in Edgewater and hasn’t raised the rents in 15 years, testified before the Senate’s State, Veterans & Military Affairs committee in support of the measure, saying that her renters are “more able to participate in community and civic life because they are able to predict and plan for their futures.”

Opponents point to evidence that rent control policies drive up rents in market rate units and discourage landlords from building new housing or continuing to invest in existing properties. Elizabeth Peetz, vice president of government affairs at the Colorado Association of Realtors, told the Senate committee that rent control is “a short-term solution that kills the incentive to build new homes.” Several landlords testified that they would sell their current rental properties to owner–occupants if rent-control legislation passed, implying that the overall rental housing stock would decrease.

How has rent control worked in other cities?

Some form of rent control laws currently exist in four states—California, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York—as well as the District of Columbia. Last year, lawmakers in Illinois, Oregon, and Washington considered legislation to remove their statewide bans on rent control, similar to the process going on in Colorado right now. The legislation passed in Oregon, and the state went on to enact a statewide cap on rent increases. Some Republican opponents in Oregon have argued that the rent-control bill was written with Portland’s urban housing crisis in mind, and isn’t appropriate for more rural communities.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, a region with notoriously high rents, nine cities currently have some form of rent-control legislation in place. A recent Stanford University study found that, in San Francisco, rent-control legislation resulted in a 15 percent drop in rental housing supply, as owners sold their properties or redeveloped buildings. However, at the same time, the study revealed that renters who benefitted from rent control did so significantly—choosing to stay in apartments longer than those without rent control. “We find the vast majority of those incentivized to remain in their rent-controlled apartment would have been displaced from San Francisco had they not been covered,” the study reads.

What would rent control mean for Colorado?

The short answer is that it would mean different things for different communities. The text of the bill explains that Fort Collins and other university towns “have student populations contending with rising housing costs.” At the hearing on Monday, Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson brought up the impact of Airbnb on resort communities. “We are really struggling now to be able to provide rentals for local working families,” he said. “We desperately need some new tools in our toolbox.” The proponents say this bill would give local governments that additional tool to create more affordable housing.

It’s important to note that, at this point, all this bill would do is lift the ban—giving cities and counties the ability to enact rent-control measures in the future. Sen. Mike Foote, chairman of the State, Veterans & Military Affairs committee, said on Monday that if the rent control ban were lifted, “There is no certainty of what Denver would pass. We would have the conversation.”