In any normal housing market, landlords are focused on attracting tenants, fixing up properties and maintaining a reasonable level of service. With rent control, however, you want to get rid of your tenants. The longer they stay, the further below market their rents sink. There is usually some kind of vacancy allowance, so the longest-lasting tenants have the best deals. That is why so many prominent personalities from the 1960s and 1970s (Mia Farrow, Mayor Ed Koch, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation) had rent-controlled apartments while anyone just arriving in the city would pay $700 a month to sleep on someone's couch.
Deprived of any chance of evicting tenants, the only thing the landlord can do is reduce services. So another layer of law is necessary saying that if landlords don't provide heat or make repairs, the tenant doesn't have to pay rent. Now the tenant has an interest in seeing things fall apart. One of the most common confrontations involved a rent-controlled tenant refusing admission to the repairman sent to fix the leaky sink. In the end, the tenant can just create his own violations -- a missing smoke alarm, graffiti in the halls. "Paying rent in New York is really optional," one landlord after another told me. "It's lucky more people don't know the law."
The stories from this netherworld sometimes sounded like chronicles from the Spanish Inquisition. One Chinese woman, whose property-owning family had been murdered by the Communists, had been running an apartment house in Harlem. After one tenant refused to pay rent for two years, she finally got an order of eviction. The tenant responded by firebombing her office. She took him to criminal court. The judge looked at the case and said, "This isn't a criminal case, it's a housing matter." Back they went to housing court. The housing judge overturned the eviction. For firebombing her office, the tenant got to keep his apartment. "I think I'm going back to China," she told me. "Over there they just kill you and get it over with. Here they torture you first."
As more municipalities adopt more oppressive laws and regulations in Pennsylvania, we have to recognize the possibility that rent control may not be far behind.