President Joe Biden’s draft federal tenants’ rights bill proposes new safeguards against the exploitation and evictions of the nation’s lowest-income tenants, but housing advocates and experts say the plan doesn’t go far enough to stem evictions.
The White House plan sets the stage for federal legislation to “bolster renter protections and promote rent affordability” that would override patchy or nonexistent state and local laws at a time when rents are rising faster than wages and institutional investors have become a major player.
“There is no comprehensive federal law protecting tenants. Instead, our nation’s rental market will be defined by a patchwork of state and local laws and legal processes that renters and rental housing providers must go through,” the Biden administration’s plan reads.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) organizer Foluke Nunn said she hopes the White House proposal will set the stage for more enforceable protections for renters at all levels of government — but particularly at the federal level, which could establish renter defenses overriding restrictive local ones and state supersede laws.
“I hope this draft forms the basis for national legislation that can guarantee rights for all tenants,” she said, adding, “Georgia is [one of] the worst states for renters, and I don’t see the state adopting the principles laid out in the blueprint anytime soon.”
Alison Johnson, executive director of the Atlanta Housing Justice League, said in an email that the blueprint lacks plans for enforcement mechanisms that would keep negligent landlords honest.
“In cities like Atlanta, many low-income residents are being displaced and there are no provisions in the Biden [proposal] that would prevent mass evictions,” she said, adding, “We need additional concrete tenant protections with bite that local municipalities can enact.”
Though positive, Johnson said the president’s proposal was “just a stepping stone and nothing more.”
In short, the blueprint, a roadmap for potential legislation, proposes that the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau investigate exploitative practices by landlords and background-checking firms “that unfairly prevent applicants and renters from accessing or staying in homes.” to stay,” and urges those authorities to consider measures to prevent rent gouging, evictions for non-payment of rent, and other measures that take advantage of marginalized people.
The plan underscores guidelines for “clear and fair leases” that tenants can understand, detailing when and how they can benefit from “unit-related actions” — such as their right to legal counsel and expressing themselves “without hindrance or harassment by.” to organize their housing provider or property manager”, according to the blueprint.
“All of this goes much further than I’ve ever seen a White House reinforce and promote the importance of tenant rights and protections,” said Diane Yentel, who chairs the National Low Income Housing Coalition. said on Twitter. But the White House and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, she said, “must take action to hold business owners accountable for documented, egregious, and often unlawful behavior.”
During a Jan. 30 webinar focused on federal housing policy, Yentel called the White House proposal “a significant step forward” for affordable housing. But she said it should go further to protect renters from predatory evictions and other exploitative actions by landlords — particularly when it comes to Wall Street’s national grip on the housing market.
Wall Street investors have increasingly bought homes in the Atlanta area in recent years. They often turn homes into high-priced rentals that lower-income renters can’t afford, or just sit on the lots without maintaining them and let them fall apart as they appreciate in value — and sometimes mocking locally created ones to deter plagues.
Deirdre Oalkey, a housing expert at Georgia State University, said Atlanta Civic Circle that lawmakers from the local level to the federal government must find ways to hold institutional investors such as hedge funds and private equity funds to account.
“These are the drivers of corporate investment in housing, and they don’t care what the rent is,” she said, adding, “Corporate landlords in particular tend to set rent well above market rate, so any kind.” Rent cap (due to potential rent-boosting bans) would mean they wouldn’t make as much profit, but they would still make a healthy profit.”
Echoing Oakley’s concerns, AFSC’s Nunn said Atlanta Civic Circle She was “disappointed that the blueprint doesn’t say more about the need to address negligent landlords and property owners who refuse to make repairs/are slow to make repairs.”
Oakley added that she worries some might see the White House draft and simply interpret it as asking for rent controls and eviction bans as of January 30 forbes article suggested. “This is scaremongering — or trying to create a moral panic,” she said. In truth, the document merely underscores the way many tenants are abused by landlords and outlines possible fixes.
But Terri Montague, an associate professor at Emory University Law School and a housing expert, said in an email that she expects the general public “to welcome the draft as an important reinforcement and step in the right direction, especially for local communities.” like the city of Atlanta, who have already adopted their own local tenancy laws.”
The resolution adopted by the Atlanta City Council in June is largely symbolic; It calls on the Georgia legislature to repeal a decades-old law banning rent control and encourages the establishment of a city-level Tenant Advocate’s Office to help low-income tenants with landlord issues and educate them on their legal rights when they confront them are disputes with landlords.
While she commended the White House’s efforts to advance housing affordability talks, Yentel, the NLIHC leader, said, “There is still a lot to do.”