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A bill to lift Georgia’s decades-old ban on rent regulation is expected to sputter out this year without so much as a committee hearing.

State Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) sought to repeal the prohibition against cities and counties enacting any rent control laws as a way to keep housing affordable for  Georgians, many of whom have been financially beset by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

James told Atlanta Civic Circle in February that Senate Bill 125 was sure to face an uphill battle in Georgia’s Republican-controlled, landlord-friendly legislature. This time around, she’d hoped, allowing local governments to regulate rent would be more palatable than earlier efforts to lift the ban, because both the public health crisis and a surge of out-of-state investor interest have further strained the already tight housing market, both for metro Atlanta and statewide.

“Everybody knows somebody who has had this problem [affording rent] in the communities they represent,” she said of fellow lawmakers last month.

But SB 125 hasn’t even been heard by a Senate committee, much less the full Senate, so it’s unlikely to make it to Crossover Day on Monday, James’ legislative aide, Diego Santana, said in an email. That’s the deadline for any legislation with a chance at becoming law to win approval in one chamber of the statehouse and get sent to the other.

But Georgia’s legislative sessions run for two years. The bill could get another shot next year, Santana said, when the General Assembly convenes for the latter half of the current legislative session.

Though there’s historically been little appetite for rent stabilization at the Gold Dome, James said she had hoped to secure support from other lawmakers by communicating that local rent regulation measures today are very different from legacy rent control laws that cap prices in cities like New York.

Instead, James sought to clear the way for limits on the rate at which landlords can raise rent once a lease expires. 

The bill had support from local advocacy groups and politicians, including Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, but no state lawmakers on either side of the aisle added their name to hers as of Wednesday.

The Georgia code currently bans local governments from enacting and enforcing “any ordinance or resolution which would regulate in any way the amount of rent to be charged for privately owned, single-family or multiple-family residential rental property.”

That means landlords can hike rent prices infinitely. At a time when hedge funds and private equity investors are buying up scores of starter homes and apartments in Atlanta and other big cities, only to leave them vacant to appreciate in value or transform them into luxury rentals, many are doing just that.

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  1. What’s better than rent control? A tax on vacant lots and unoccupied buildings. Whereas rent control makes it less attractive to supply accommodation, a vacant-property tax makes it less attractive NOT to! Such a tax, although sometimes called a “vacancy tax”, is not limited to what real-estate agents call “vacancies”, i.e. properties available for rent. It also applies to vacant lots and empty properties that are not on the rental market, and prompts the owners to get them occupied in order to avoid the tax.

    Notice that a vacant-property tax is meant to be AVOIDED. It’s not meant to be paid. Better still, its avoidance would involve economic activity, expanding the bases of other taxes and allowing their rates to be reduced, so that everyone else—including tenants, home owners, and landlords with tenants—would pay LESS tax!

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