One of the most eloquent arguments against rent control was made inadvertently by the screenwriter Nora Ephron, describing her love affair with her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West side. The author of the script for the film When Harry Met Sally wrote hilariously in her memoir about the mice, the asbestos and the vast “key money” bribes paid to secure a place in the block whose landlords had, under rent control, no incentive either to maintain the building or play fair.
A policy which entrenched a Hollywood millionaire in an eight-room apartment at submarket rates doesn’t quite convince. Researchers at Stanford University found that rent controls in San Francisco in the 1990s protected established (and often older) tenants at the expense of newer (often younger) ones, partly because new building declined. That’s why economists sigh when politicians shout “rent control”. But Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is proposing it and the Labour party has pledged to legislate for it because it’s popular.