Advocates at State Capitol call to cap rent increases at 2.5 percent
As hearings commenced for two pieces of legislation supporting rent caps in the Connecticut State Senate and House, tenant union advocates claimed that politicians bent rules to limit testimony in favor.
Karen Lin, Senior Photographer
Hundreds of supporters endorsing a measure to cap rent in Connecticut to 2.5 percent and end no-fault evictions have taken to the State Capitol over the last week to make their voices heard.
The Connecticut Tenants Union, as well as allied advocacy groups, have pushed the state legislature to limit rent increases, end no-fault evictions and strengthen protections for tenants. The House heard testimony last week in a committee hearing that ran through the night until 7 a.m. On Monday, the analogous Senate bill had the rent cap provision stripped and proponents of the measure were prevented from testifying.
“Yesterday — might be at 5 p.m. — we noticed a tiny note on the agenda for the hearing today about the removal of the rent cap portion,” New Haven tenant union advocate Luke Melonakos-Harrison told the News. “There was a lot of controversy at the start of the hearing today because we weren’t allowed to testify on the rent cap.”
Melonakos-Harrison added that opponents of the rent cap provision, largely landlords, were allowed to continue testifying against the measure even when proponents were gaveled off. Connecticut Tenants Union Organizer Chinye Ijeli MED ’24 told the News that a Spanish-speaking person who wished to testify was prevented from speaking and was asked by legislators if she had brought her own translator. The Connecticut State Legislature is required to provide translating services for people who wish to testify.
SB 4 and HB 6588 were both proposed by Democrats in the State House and Senate, including New Haven’s Senators Martin Looney and Gary Winfield. The original bills proposed a four percent cap on rent increases. However, the four percent cap includes a caveat that the rent cap limit can be adjusted to reflect the consumer price index. Thus, with a current inflation rate of roughly 6 percent the cap would be roughly 10 percent.
At the House hearing last week, more than 300 advocates for rent caps came to testify, but a WiFi outage delayed the hearing for hours. After WiFI was restored, advocates testified in favor until the morning of the next day while facing opposition from state Republicans.
“It was mostly Republican legislators at first who were staunchly opposed to rent control,” Ijeli told the News. “Normal civilians would testify and then the Republicans would go on long rants about why rent controls would ruin the housing market which was tough to hear and we sometimes had to step out of the room.”
On Tuesday, the State Senate’s decision to strip the rent cap language from SB 4 caught advocates by surprise since normally legislative text must be changed at least five days before it is heard at a public hearing. No formal notice of the change was provided to people planning to testify except for a note on the committee’s agenda.
During the hearing, Housing Committee Chair Senator Marilyn Moore gaveled off supporters of the rent cap, saying that the rent cap text was no longer a pertinent part of the bill. Opponents of the rent cap were allowed to speak unfettered for hours according to Melonakos-Harrison. Later — between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. — supporters of the proposal were then told that they were allowed to begin speaking in favor of the rent cap provisions. Moore did not respond to the News’ request for comment.
“They didn’t notify us enough time in advance,” Ijeli told the News. “Also, people can speak in a hearing about whatever they want. If they say you should add rent caps back in, they should be allowed to.”
Proponents of the bill argue a cap is necessary to address skyrocketing rents across the state — last year, rents increased 12 percent across Connecticut, and in New Haven specifically, rents spiked around 19 percent. Currently, 53 percent of Connecticut renters are “cost burdened,” or spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities.
The 2.5 percent cap proposed by Connecticut Tenants Union reflects the average annual rental increase in Connecticut between 2000 and 2020, before the pandemic.
Ryan Sutherland MED ’26, a first-year medical student at Yale Medical School, also testified about the difficulties of making rent as a student. Sutherland wrote about the stress of working three part-time jobs while balancing clinical and academic class loads. They reported that their rent had recently increased by 11 percent, and said they had dealt with numerous maintenance issues with their landlord.
“I have never worked harder and have never felt poorer,” Sutherland wrote in their testimony.
The movement for rent caps has united a variety of tenants across different living situations. Kenneth David Delohery, president of Connecticut Manufactured Homeowners Alliance, which advocates for mobile homeowners throughout the state, told the News that support for rent caps is incredibly high among mobile homeowners. Delohery, who is 67 years old, highlighted the fact that mobile home communities tend to include older people and people with disabilities living on fixed income.
Last year, Delohery received a rent increase of around seven to eight percent; the biggest increase he’s ever received. He’s been door-knocking and phone banking over the past month to generate support for the bill.
“People [in mobile home communities] are looking and realizing that in three or four years, I’m not gonna be able to live here anymore,” Delohery said.
The public hearing for HB 6588 last Tuesday lasted over 14 hours total.
Correction, March 1: A previous version of this article misspelled Melonakos-Harrison’s last name and incorrectly stated that the public hearing for HB 6588 included discussion of SB 4. Details of the rent cap provision within the two bills also did not include a mention of the adjustment for consumer price index. The article has been updated.