Efficiency rents: A new theory of the natural vacancy rate for rental housing
This paper adapts the theory of efficiency wages to explain the natural vacancy rate in rental housing markets. A positive vacancy rate provides landlords an incentive to invest in maintenance because if they fail to do so, some tenants will leave and the unit will sit vacant for a finite period of time. The resulting foregone rent will penalize landlords’ failure to maintain. Habitability laws, which have been enacted by states since the 1960s, provide a non-market penalty which lessens the need for market enforcement. Variation in these laws by state offers an opportunity to test the theory.
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