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Renters Bill of Rights: Can the White House ease the crisis of tenants?

The Biden administration announced new principles for the housing market. It protected renters across the U.S. These principles included in the Blueprint for a Renter's Bill of Rights include trying to stop practices that make it hard for people to get housing and restricting rent increases that are too high in some properties with government-backed mortgages.

Principles laid out in White House Blueprint for a Renter's Bill of Rights

"The Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights." gives the various federal agencies and local government agencies, and other groups a list of principles to follow, such as "access to safe, quality, accessible, and affordable housing" and "clear and fair leases."

First Principle: Everyone has the right to safe, sound, easy-to-get-to, and affordable housing.

Renters should be able to find safe, decent, and affordable housing and not spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Owners of rental homes and state and local governments should ensure that homes for rent meet standards for living in and are free of health and safety risks.

Also, tenant advocates, local partners, public housing authorities, and owners of the rental market should provide services and amenities that are advertised or included in the lease, such as utility costs and working appliances, and make sure the residential housing unit is well kept (including common areas).

Renters shouldn't have to go through a lot of trouble to get a place to live or get help with housing. This means that the application and documentation requirements should be as easy as possible and that screening tenants should be fair and equal.

Rent increases should be reasonable, with the understanding that rents may need to go up to cover business costs. These price increases should be clear and fair to stop people from being gouged.

Second Principle: Leases should be transparent and fair

Renters should receive a transparent and fair lease that spells out their rights and responsibilities and explains their rental terms. Mandatory arbitration clauses, unapproved terms, hidden or illegal fees, false promises, and other such unfair practices or deceptive practices should not be in leases.

The security deposit policy in a lease should be transparent and fair leases everyone, and the deposit should be the right size and be put in an account that earns interest for the length of the lease.

The lease should also give the renter rights reasonable advance notice of things that will happen with the unit, like when the housing provider will come in to check on it or when big changes will be made to it.

Lastly, the terms of the lease should be written in simple, clear language that is easy for the renter to understand. A plain-language briefing should be given to the renter to ensure they're familiar with the lease terms.

Third Principle: Rights Should Be Taught, Enforced, and Improved

Federal, state, and local governments must do all they can to make housing providers ensure renters know their legal rights and have reasonable procedures to protect them from illegal discrimination and exclusion, which can come in many different forms.

The Fair Housing Act and other federal laws and regulations on fair leases retaining housing, as well as state and local fair housing laws and regulations, should make housing providers ensure that rights and protections are known and followed.

The Fair Housing Act forbids discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, family status, national origin, and practices that unfairly hurt a protected class.

The Fair Housing Act and other existing federal, state, and local laws should be changed to make it clear that discrimination in the rental market based on a person's source of income is illegal.

All renters should also be protected from sexual harassment by landlords or their employees. And people who have been hurt by domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault shouldn't have to pay for what their abusers did.

It's essential to remember that exclusion in rental markets can happen in different ways, such as when some tenant background check companies' checks show wrong information.

Tenant background checks must be legal, fair, and not biased to make sure renters can find housing and choose where they want to live. By law, landlords must tell people who tried to rent a place why they were turned down or charged more.

Fourth Principle: People have the right to form groups

Renters should be able to organize without their landlord or their own property manager or management manager getting in the tenant screenings way or making them feel bad. Organizing shouldn't put renters at risk of losing their housing. The companies that provide or manage their housing should also recognize tenant groups.

A renter should know who the owner of their building is and how to get in touch with them if they need to talk to them about something important about their own property management. Such participation should be a part of a healthy and productive relationship between a tenant and a landlord.

It's a big deal that the federal government and the White House have talked about the need for a renters' bill of rights and backed it.

The White House says more than 44 million households, about 35% of the U.S. population, rent their homes.

Even though the coronavirus pandemic led to many new tenant protections, and help for renters, including a historic pot of money to help people who had fallen behind on their rent, most of that help has run out.

For a long time, people who care about renters have been asking the government to do something about the problem. Almost half of the renter households in the U.S. spend more than 30% of their monthly income on rent and utilities, and before the public health crisis, 900,000 people were kicked out of their homes every year.

Fifth Principle: Eviction Prevention

Renters should have access to resources that enable them to avoid being kicked out of their homes, ensure the legal process during an eviction is fair, and prevent future housing instability. To stop evictions, renters must have access to eviction protections that need an adequate reason to evict a tenant, and tenants should get enough notice if their lease is not being renewed.

Renters should avoid eviction by using alternatives to the eviction system, like eviction diversion and grievance procedures that stop formal legal proceedings through negotiation.

Resolutions from these processes could include a grace period for late rent, the ability to keep the tenancy by paying rent or fixing the lease violation, access to a formal, standardized dispute resolution process before going to court, and the chance to participate in a meaningful way in a pre-eviction diversion program.

If someone files for eviction, tenants should be given 30 days' notice and the right to a lawyer during the eviction process. The eviction process should be fair and include protection from illegal evictions and lockouts; a hearing in a language the tenant understands; trained, competent hearing officers; due process protections, such as a written record and the ability to present evidence, cross-examine, and do discovery; and the ability for a tenant to appeal an eviction judgment without having to post a bond.

The eviction process should be fair and include protection from illegal evictions and lockouts; a hearing in a language the tenant understands; trained, competent hearing officers; due process protections, such as a written record and the ability to present evidence, cross-examine, and do discovery; and the ability for a tenant to appeal an eviction judgment without having to post a bond.

Eviction case filings should be sealed immediately, even if the person didn't pay their rent. This would make it less likely that someone would be locked out of future housing opportunities without a chance to defend themselves.

Both eviction case filings and executed judgments should remain sealed for minors, tenants who win their eviction cases, and tenants who move back in after the judgment has been entered.

Eviction records should stay sealed until a judge rules against the tenant. Records about minors and default judgments should also stay sealed. State laws and procedures should be considered when making rules about how to seal tenant records.

And for renters with rental debt, fair debt collection practices should include the ability to force payment of rental debt only if there is clear proof that the debt is owed; and freedom from deceptive or abusive attempts to collect.

Why was it essential to introduce the renter's bill of rights?

Even before the pandemic, rent increased much more quickly than wages. In 2019, almost a quarter of the 44 million renter households spent at least half of their income on rent. iv In the last three years, it has become harder to get affordable housing. This is because rents have increased nearly 26% nationwide during the pandemic, forcing many Americans to choose between food, health care, and education because "the rent eats first."

Housing is important for a wide range of things. People's health is affected by the cost, quality, safety, stability, and location of their homes. One clear example of this is how lead exposure hurts the development of children. Households with the highest cost burdens are more likely to put off medical care and have worse health outcomes when they have to pay for rent out of their own pockets.

The recent pandemic showed how hard it is for renters to get the housing help they need. This has been true for a long time. This is why the Biden-Harris Administration worked hard to make its emergency rental assistance programs easier to apply for and run. This led to a fair distribution of resources and housing assistance to renters who needed them.

Due to a lack of housing, there is more competition for the few units of multifamily housing that are available. This gives owners of multifamily loans even more power over rental prices, who they rent housing units or model lease them to, what lease terms they offer, and whether and how much they raise rents. At the same time, America's housing stock is getting older, and more rental homes are becoming outdated or have bad conditions.

Federal Housing Finance Agency to improve quality of life for renters

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, various federal agencies, and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said they would look into putting tenant protections in place that limit "egregious rent increases" at properties backed by certain federal mortgages.

In 2020, the Urban Institute calculated that the federal government paid for more than 28% of all rental housing units in the country from the private sector. Protecting the rent on these properties "would be the most important thing the government could do to protect renters.

As part of the actions taken by the White House complex housing policy, the Federal Trade Commission said it will look into ways to give it more power to stop practices that "unfairly stop consumers from getting and keeping rental housing." Some of these practices, said Yentel, is that information about evictions stays on, property management companies do some background checks, and that application fees and security deposits for such properties are high.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also said it will move towards requiring some rental property owners to give at least 30 days' notice if they want to end a tenant's lease because they haven't paid rent. The agency will provide $20 million to the Eviction Protection Grant Program, which will pay nonprofits and government agencies to help low-income tenants at risk of being kicked out of their homes with legal help.

Bob Pinnegar, president and chief executive officer of the National Apartment Association, said that the industry did not want the federal government to get more involved in the relationship between landlords and tenants.

Complicated housing policy is a state and local issue, not the national economic council. The best ways to solve it are to provide legal assistance and require public housing authorities to use incentives instead of legal punishments.

Final note

Mike Schmidt, Civil Trial Law Specialist, Personal Injury Trial Law Specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and Civil Trial Specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, says,

“A nationwide Renter Bill of Rights would give tenants more protections and increase their housing security, according to a recent statement from the White House. In accordance with the proposed RBoR, tenants would have the right to a fair and timely process for addressing maintenance and repair issues, as well as the right to reasonable and predictable rent.

The RBoR's greatest benefit is that it would give renters, who are frequently at a disadvantage in the rental market, much-needed rights. Renters would be better equipped to understand their rights and speak for themselves if there were more transparency and clear rules for landlords.

The RBoR could benefit tenants in the real world by giving them more stability and security in their homes. Renters would not be forced to live in substandard conditions if they had the right to reasonable and predictable rent, for instance, which would make it more difficult for landlords to raise rates excessively.”

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