Cap the Rent: Connecticut coalition unites tenants to curb out-of-control landlords
Tenants and allies with the Cap the Rent CT coalition testify at the Connecticut legislature's Housing Committee hearing. | C.D. Carlson / People's World

HARTFORD, Conn.—A local united front is mobilizing around the powerful idea that housing is a human right. Testifying before the state legislature’s Housing Committee for over 20 hours, a diverse coalition of tenants and allies demanded limits on a corporate landlords’ unchecked power to aggressively increase rents and gut communities with profit-driven evictions.

Cap the Rent CT, a coalition of over 50 organizations including tenant unions, labor unions, housing rights and legal aid organizations, community, faith, socialist, and student groups testified that out-of-control rent increases are unfair and are harming working people.

The coalition triumphed in its first test, publicly challenging corporate landlord power at the public hearing on House Bill 6588 and House Bill 6589—a pair of proposals that would, for the first time, institute a rent cap for all housing in Connecticut.

Local media was filled with stories about the unprecedented 20-hour spree of testimony by tenants.

During a press conference, Cap The Rent CT made clear that the proposed legislation is just a starting point toward what’s really needed. Organizers highlighted several issues that should be strengthened in the bills. For example, the proposed rules would allow rents to increase annually by 4% plus the rate of inflation. The speakers explained that this could mean rent increases up to 10%. Instead, they argued the rent cap should be 2.5%.

Organizers also said that a rent cap without eviction protections would encourage landlords to evict existing tenants so they could bring in new tenants and charge an increased rent. This “tenant decontrol” has proven to be an issue in other states and cities when landlords kick out residents to “decontrol” the unit and raise rents on the next tenant. This essentially allows landlords to start from scratch with a new (higher) rent level after every eviction. Speakers called for a rent cap that survives an eviction or tenant vacancy.

The public hearing was the largest and longest housing hearing in recent memory, despite an internet outage that delayed the start by almost four hours. A total of 379 members of the public registered to testify, and over 760 written statements were submitted. The Cap the Rent CT coalition showed a level of organization that far out-paced that of landlords, who normally dominate this space.

In a moving display of people power that stretched into the early hours of the next morning, for every landlord and CEO who appeared to testify against capping the rent, there were five proud working-class renters unapologetically demanding recognition of their human right to housing.

Months of hard work went into canvassing communities, collecting stories, and empowering workers to speak about their conditions and demands.

One mother from Meriden, Anabel Hernández, told about the eviction violence she experienced after falling behind on her landlord’s aggressive rent increase. Speaking in Spanish with translation, she said, “Un día a las 8:00 am llegó el marshals y sacó todo a la calle, yo cargué solo a mis hijos.” (“One day at 8:00 am the marshal threw my things onto the street, I only carried my children.”)  She said working-class mothers demand caps on rent because: “La vivienda digna es nuestro derecho.”  (“Dignified housing is our right.”)

Another mother from Manchester, Katia Hernandez, testified about how the rising rents have driven her into an inhumane basement apartment. She explained these conditions were not good for her children and constantly moving from place-to-place was violence. “Es estresante e inhumano no encontrar una vivienda asequible, pues es un derecho humano contar con un techo y mantenerse en comunidad. El desplazamiento es abusivo mucho mas para los ninos.” (“It is stressful and inhuman not to find affordable housing, because it is a human right to have a roof and stay in the community. Displacement is abusive much more for children.”)

Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne spoke on behalf of the union federation’s 250,000 members, saying they’ve been burdened with 30% to 40% rent increases in just the last two years. He said rent caps are necessary to protect working people from homelessness.

Speaking on behalf of the Connecticut Communist Party, Mariano Rivera said the people in his community in the Naugatuck River Valley and throughout the state are being driven into unprecedented levels of homelessness, including a 25% rate of childhood homelessness. He said these outcomes are the result of aggressive rent increases by landlords driven to extract value from the productive members of society.

Rivera emphasized that housing as a human right and warned of the growing crisis of financial investors acquiring mobile home parks from independent owners as a reliable source of passive income, generating massive profits at the expense of low-income and disabled park residents.

New Haven Alder Ron Hurt testifies at the Housing Committee. | Photo courtesy of Jaime Myers-McPhail

Ralph Esposito, a 78-year-old retiree living in a mobile home in Beechwood, testified that the 300 people in his community on fixed incomes cannot bear the burden of rent increases. Over the last three years, he explained, the rents and fees have reached a breaking point. Most recently, rent increased 7.5%. He said that “if the rent increases every year at this rate, it could force people out of their homes.”

Dr. Annie Harper, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine, testified about her research on the effects of unaffordable rents on Connecticut tenants. Rent increases are causing people “to cut back on basic needs such as food and healthcare in order to afford rent [which leads to] significant anxiety as they teeter constantly on the edge of losing their home,” she told the hearing.

Tom Connolly, representing the New Haven People’s Center, submitted testimony explaining that a landlord’s $100 per month rent increase has been statistically proven to result in a 9% rise in homelessness.

Every working-class speaker told the Housing Committee that the proposed legislation needs to be strengthened by lowering the rent cap to 2.5% and adding more protections for tenants against the drive to evict people in the pursuit of profit.

In response, corporate landlords repeated the claim that a rent cap would force them out of business and reduce rental housing. Their tired demand for maintained privilege made no attempt to explain the social benefit of their drive to extract higher profits from communities.

One landlord testified, “I oppose these bills on the basis that they will hinder my ability to manage my properties profitably.” Another landlord testified, “Support and protections should be in place for tenants but not at the detriment of landlords and owners.” Another said, “The burden should not fall on property owners.”

“Please don’t consider this bill,” testified one more landlord, “the tenants already have enough rights.”

Corporate landlords and management companies provided fear-based testimony that a cap on rent increases would, somehow, cause rents to increase. Not a single landlord, even when pressed by members of the committee, could clearly explain how that could be the case.

The landlords at the hearing took the position that rents escalate by operation of magic, instead of by operation of a landlord’s deliberate decision to raise them. Many landlords testified that their expenses have increased due to the current economic crisis. But not a single landlord spoke about how rents ever decreased when expenses decrease. Not a single landlord disclosed to the public what their profit margins were, nor did they explain that they are raising rents in order to pad those profit margins.

Landlord after landlord issued veiled threats that if their profit-privilege was in any way regulated, they would leave Connecticut. State Sen. Marilyn Moore and State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez rhetorically asked one landlord if they could pick up their buildings and carry them out of state.

The hearing became tense with talk of systems. Hartford tenant union organizer Joe Hermann said some landlords who received bailouts and direct federal and state aid during the pandemic, have neglected their tenants, refused to make repairs, and directly retaliated against tenants who organize. Landlords have evicted tenants after the pandemic-related rental assistance they received expired. Hermann said this behavior is baked into the capitalist system.

Republican State Sen. Rob Sampson, a real estate agent, pushed back saying the American system is good because there is “equality” between the parties, that landlords and tenants each have the “freedom” to “take it or leave it.”

Testimony was given in-person and via Zoom. Here, tenant Eluned Li talks about why the rent cap bills are important to her. | Screenshot courtesy of Jaime Myers-McPhail

Hermann replied that there is no true equality or freedom in the housing market because tenants, unlike landlords, will be homeless if they “leave it.” He said Sampson was out of touch with working class conditions.

“We’re seeing America dissolve into socialism,” Sampson complained. Not a single tenant speaker took the position that capitalism and the drive for profits was good for them. Instead, many speakers said the system has to change.

In a public poll last month, over 72% of people in Connecticut supported a cap on rents. Struggling to survive, many are tired of paying for the landlord’s privilege and profit.

Organizers said this mobilization is one step toward the ultimate goal of establishing housing as a human right.

There is recognition that the dangerous housing crisis is caused by landlord speculation that needs to be addressed through organized and direct community action.


C. D. Carlson
C. D. Carlson

C. D. Carlson is a Connecticut-based attorney who advocates for underrepresented and marginalized communities.