This article studies the evolution of housing rents in St. Petersburg between 1880 and 1917, covering an eventful period of Russian and world history. We collect and digitize over 5,000 rental advertisements from a local newspaper, which we use together with geo-coded addresses and detailed structural characteristics to construct a quality-adjusted rent price index in continuous time. We provide the first pre-war and pre-Soviet index based on market data for any Russian housing market. In 1915, one of the world’s earliest rent control and tenant protection policies was introduced in response to soaring prices following the outbreak of World War I. We analyze the impact of this policy: while before the regulation rents were increasing at a similar rapid pace as other consumer prices, the policy reversed this trend. We find evidence for official compliance with the policy, document a rise in tenure duration and strongly increased rent affordability among workers after the introduction of the policy. We conclude that the immediate prelude to the October Revolution was indeed characterized by economic turmoil, but rent affordability and rising rents were no longer the dominating problems.
Keywords: Rental market, rent regulation, intra-urban rent dynamics, hedonic rent price index, economic history, Pre-Soviet Russia, October revolution