Letter from the Executive Director for April 2023: Rent Control Advanced by Boston City Council

In March, we responded to the rent control proposal passed by the Boston City Council. Resources are aligning against this serious threat to housing and civil rights because it is, in every way that matters, the same disaster we had in the 1970s and ’80s. We had energy to spare last month, though. We continued our work to create better rental housing through a dinner meeting on the state sanitary code and a tour of a special three-decker in need of renovation.

On March 8, the Boston City Council voted 11 to 2 in favor of mayor Michelle Wu’s form of rent control. Some in the real estate community were shocked so many councilors were in favor. The proposal will reduce housing quantity, reduce housing quality and drive renters out of town. The rent board she proposes will lead landlords to increase screening criteria just as happened before. Few who need it will qualify for a rent controlled unit.

But we expected the vote would be 13 to zero. Rent control is intuitively obvious to people at risk of eviction, and there are many such households in Boston. When you ask someone if they’d like their rent lowered, 100% of people should rationally say yes. The freedom to think about unintended consequences comes only if you’re free of money trouble. But ask a renter, “If you had to move under rent control, would there be more or fewer apartments for you? Would you still pass a rental application?” and people start to understand. The history of rent control in Massachusetts proves that life and economics are sadly not intuitive. Two councilors get it and said so publicly. That’s two more than we had hoped for at this early stage. Many more legislators will follow. And some councilors will regret their vote before we are done.

We filed our public records suit against the city because Mayor Wu has secretly aligned anti-market zealots with pragmatic developers, who all stand to be exempted by her proposal. She doesn’t want us to see how the sausage got made. Well, our suit got a lot of good press, because you know who else likes access to public records? The press.

All of this “Boston rent control” business is personally maddening, because I can see as well as anyone that Boston is as good as drowned from climate change if we don’t get a grip on emissions. This is why I made time to tour a special three-decker in Worcester the week of March 24.

This three-decker was owned by a MassLandlords member and sold to another. Part of it has been lovingly preserved for 100 years. The wall paper from the 1920s is still a beautiful work of art. The woodwork is old-growth astonishing. But the gas-on-gas stove is a terrible way to heat by today’s standards. It’s a glimpse of where we’re from. And if the owners are able to retrofit it with geothermal heat pumps the way they imagine, while keeping that wallpaper and the occupants, it will be a glimpse of where we need to go. We simply cannot reach our emissions reductions goals with gut renovation. There is not enough capital, time or swing housing. So, if you know of a three-decker retrofitted to geothermal with people living in it, please contact us. Otherwise, we will continue inventing it on our own.

We also succeeded in hosting our first-in-three-years directly managed dinner meeting. The city of Springfield very kindly sent two public servants out of town to our Longmeadow gathering point to review changes effective April 1. We hope when the final financials are collated, the event will have succeeded well enough to have us repeat it there and in other locations.

MassLandlords’ work benefits owners, managers and service providers of rental housing across the industry. Please join as a member, become a property rights supporter or increase your level of support.


Douglas Quattrochi

Executive Director

MassLandlords, Inc.