Mayor Ras J. Baraka released findings of a new Landlord Registration Trial conducted by Newark’s Office of Rent Control and the Behavioral Insights Team of the What Works Cities Economic Mobility Initiative. The results show that landlords who received a behaviorally informed mailer were more than 20 times more likely to submit their rental unit registration by the annual deadline than landlords who did not receive the mailer.
This trial is the latest move in Baraka’s stepped-up rent control enforcement that has increased the number of landlords complying with the rent control ordinance from 520 in (2018) to an all-time high of 2,885 today, an increase of 454% The registration process is designed to ensure that: 1) all properties have fair rents; 2) any increases are within limits allowed by ordinance; and 3) tenants have an avenue for resolution if they file a complaint about unfair rents.
“Rent control is one of our most important tools to keep housing affordable in Newark, where 78% of our residents are renters,” said Baraka. “By proactively reaching out to landlords to remind them to register their properties, we are ensuring that residential rents are regulated and controlled. COVID-19 has caused a crisis in housing affordability and stricter rent control compliance is one of numerous steps that we are taking to help Newark tenants deal with a crushing problem.”
Through this trial, over 1,932 properties have been registered in the two months, directly benefitting more than 10,900 residents and producing more than $30,400 in new rental registration fees.
Data in the report of the registration trial indicates that the City’s investment in outreach to landlords can contribute to significantly higher rates of compliance with Newark’s rent control ordinance and thereby support Newark’s important goal of supporting residents in securing rent-stabilized housing.
To ensure compliance with Newark’s Rent Control Ordinance, the City’s Department of Economic and Housing Development worked with the Behavioral Insights Team to test messaging that encourages landlords to register their rental units with the Office of Rent Control. While the registration is mandated by a city ordinance, Rent Control Officer Jacquea A. Lee estimated that, historically, less than 50 percent of rental units had been registered.
“Today, the pandemic makes it even more urgent that we ensure everyone has access to decent, healthy and safe housing. The City is taking strong action to protect housing affordability. Comprehensive registration data is a necessary tool to stop the rapid loss of affordable housing,” said Mr. Lee.
On December 5, 2019, Newark mailed letters to 7,800 randomly assigned property owners with multiple units reminding them of their obligation to register their rental units with the City of Newark. 21 percent of landlords (1,641 out of 7,800) who received the mailer submitted their rental registration form by the December 31, 2019, deadline. Comparatively, fewer than one percent of landlords (73 out of 7,800) who did not receive the mailer submitted their rental registration form on time.
“With this relatively low-cost intervention, the city was able to secure registrations from nearly 2,000 landlords. These registrations represent properties that are now on record with the city, where the Office of Rent Control can monitor changes in rent and ensure these units remain affordable. If this intervention is scaled to the full list of property owners on record, we estimate the city could secure between 1,300 and 2,000 additional registrations. This would represent thousands of families benefiting from housing protections provided by the city,” said Elizabeth Bennett, Senior Advisor at the Behavioral Insights Team.
What Works Cities supports cities in developing their capacity for effectively using data to better serve residents. The City of Newark has been working with the Behavioral Insights Team North America since 2019, through What Works Cities, to improve their use of data and evidence to improve outcomes for residents.