2022 Leg Session, Ari Armstrong, Exclusives, Gold Dome, Housing, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Rent control in top tier of stupid ‘progressive’ ideas

To help lower home costs, legislators could pass the following bill: “Anyone who has ever served in the legislature may not sell any residential property for more than its purchase price.” Or, more generously, the bill could let them adjust the price for inflation. That would let hundreds of people buy less-expensive homes!

That bill also would be a ridiculous violation of property rights. Any legislator who voted for it would deserve it, but anyone who did not vote for it would unjustly suffer. Anyone, of course, is free to sell their property for below market value if they want.

Many legislators wish to impose the sort of harms on others that they would decry as profoundly unjust if applied to them. House Bill 1287, for example, as originally drafted, would have imposed rent control on mobile home lots, limiting annual increases to the rate of inflation or else 3%.

Rent control often is Exhibit A in discussions of stupid “Progressive” ideas. Sure, in the short term, the people paying lower rents benefit financially. In the longer term, the quality of the controlled properties declines and the supply suffers. This bill is a flashing red warning to reputable buyers of mobile home land and to potential developers of new parks: Do not do business in Colorado. Meanwhile, the bill is an open invitation to people whose idea of business is to cut repair, maintenance, and improvement costs to the bone.

According to a Colorado Public Radio report by Andrew Kenney, the only thing standing between this absurd bill and Colorado property owners was the governor’s threat to veto it unless the rent-control provisions were removed. This is one of the rare times when Jared Polis, a sometime-libertarian Democrat, bucked the anti-business wing of his party. But merely the fact that this bill was seriously proposed and came close to passage should startle property owners and anyone thinking of buying property in Colorado.

Does anyone think that those pushing for rent control on mobile home land would stop there if given the opportunity to impose the scheme more broadly? In an earlier report, Kenney quotes Andrea Chiriboga-Flor of the far-left 9to5, “This is what we’ve been building toward. Rent control—while that is a trigger for landlords, it’s something that people are really drawn to and . . . are excited to be working on. This is setting a pretty big precedent in a state that’s pretty libertarian and has very strong property rights.”

“Precedent” here means “more to follow,” once the camel dislodges the first stake holding down the tent to get its nose where it doesn’t belong.

The bill is a response “to the influx of wealthy investors who are buying mobile home parks and rapidly boosting rents as an easy source of revenue,” Kenney writes. But people choosing to sell their property to a willing buyer is simply not a “problem” that is the proper business of government. Government’s rightful job in this context is to protect people’s rights to their property and their rights to contract. Nothing more. So long as the owner of mobile home land upholds contracts with the renters, they are properly free to sell their property to whom they wish on terms the parties find mutually agreeable.

If the owners of mobile home units (who rent the land on which the units sit), legislators, Chiriboga-Flor, or journalists fear rising rents with new owners, they are perfectly free to bid for the land in question or to donate funds to the buyer of their choice. They don’t need special “opportunity to purchase” provisions such as the bill also proposes; offering to buy land always has been perfectly legal.

If the owners of the units also collectively own the land on which the units sit, they are then free to charge fees sufficient to cover the mortgage (if any) and the costs of maintaining and upgrading the property. That’s how HOAs work.

The deeper issue is that the land in question is going up in value because the cost of homes generally is going up. And why are they going up? Partly it’s a matter of more people moving into Colorado. But if supply kept up, that would keep prices lower. The big problem is that Democrats (among others), at the same time that they propose counterproductive “solutions” to rising housing costs, promote an endless stream of costly construction mandates (now including green codes and EV requirements) and building restrictions. (I also think that federal inflationary spending has pushed up the cost of housing, but that’s not a problem that state officials can fix.)

If you want less-costly homes, free up the housing market. Say no to paternalistic controls, property rights violations, and NIMBYism. But most Democrats do not actually want less-costly housing generally. They want to control people’s lives and to take credit for “rescuing” people from the problems they helped create.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.  He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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