Biden administration unveils rent protections

washington d.c.

In response to soaring rents across the country in recent years, the Biden administration on Wednesday unveiled new actions to protect renters, make renting more affordable and improve fairness in the rental housing market.

Multiple agencies should be involved in improving conditions for tenants, taking action alongside a set of principles defined by the administration focusing on tenants’ rights.

This plan guides future actions by the federal government, state and local entities, and the private sector, in efforts to strengthen tenant protections and encourage affordable rents.

And it follows one of the strongest federal supports for tenants in history, in which the government provided an unprecedented $46 billion in emergency rental funds to struggling tenants impacted by the pandemic.

Relevant agencies include the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Housing Finance Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Department of Justice.

More than a third of the American population – 44 million households – rent their homes. Prior to the pandemic, well over 2 million deportation requests and an estimated 900,000 deportations occurred each year, disproportionately affecting black women and their children.

At the height of the pandemic, the federal government’s moratorium on evictions and the historic exit from rent relief kept at least one million at-risk tenants housed. But over the past year, rents have soared and some of the biggest business owners have expanded their holdings and increased their profits.

The actions outlined on Wednesday target landlord practices, rental housing financing and ways to support tenants who may be unfairly excluded from renting.

Here’s what some agencies will do:

The FTC will examine a range of practices that affect the rental market, including the use of tenant background checks, the use of algorithms in tenant screening, the provision of notices of adverse action by landlords and property management companies; and how an applicant’s source of income factors into housing decisions. This is the first time the FTC has issued a request for information exploring unfair practices in the rental market.

The CFPB will provide guidance and coordinate enforcement efforts with the FTC to ensure renters have accurate information in their credit reports and to hold background check companies accountable for their procedures.

FHFA will initiate a process to review limits on egregious rent increases and tenant protection proposals for future investments. This is in addition to actions announced in November that encourage the financing of multi-family loans guaranteeing affordable housing.

HUD will propose requiring public housing authorities and landlords of rental assistance properties to provide at least 30 days notice before terminating a lease due to nonpayment of rent. The DOJ plans to look into anticompetitive information sharing, including in rental markets.

The administration has also set out its guiding principles in its “Blueprint for a Tenant Bill of Rights,” which, while not enforceable, is meant to outline the protections the administration says every tenant deserves.

These include access to safe, quality and affordable housing; clear and fair leases, and access to eviction prevention and rent relief resources to stay in sustainable housing. The plan also looks to federal, state and local governments to ensure tenants know their rights and are protected from unlawful discrimination and to protect tenants’ rights to organize.

Wednesday’s announcement also included a call to action for private businesses and housing industry advocates asking them to strengthen their practices and make independent commitments to improve conditions for tenants.

Some participants include, which will make landlords who host housing choice coupons visible on rental searches; and the National Association of Realtors, which will provide property managers with resources on tenant-centric best practices, such as providing information on rental assistance and using alternative credit scores for applicants without detailed credit history.

The Biden administration has made several announcements regarding housing issues. Last May, the administration released a housing supply action plan, setting the goal of closing the US housing supply shortfall within five years. And last summer, the government unveiled a plan to reduce discrimination in housing.

Housing advocates celebrated the administration’s announcement, though it didn’t provide stronger protections for tenants than they would like to see.

“Strengthening and enforcing tenant protections is vitally important to addressing the broader housing crisis,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “There is a huge power imbalance in our housing system that tilts heavily in favor of landlords at the expense of low-income tenants and other marginalized tenants, putting families at increased risk of housing instability and homelessness. and fuels racial inequality.”

Yentel said while the administration’s announcements are an important step toward fulfilling President Joe Biden’s commitment to establish a tenant bill of rights, it was a missed opportunity to tie tenant protections to homeowners who get federally backed loans and other assistance.

“An unfortunate omission from the White House Blueprint is any administrative action to hold business owners accountable for egregious, predatory and often illegal behavior during and since the pandemic,” Yentel said.

Last year, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released the findings of a year-long investigation into the eviction practices of large business owners. The Democratic-led investigation found that some businesses were engaging in abusive tactics to evict tenants from their homes during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, others in the housing industry argue that this type of federal involvement in housing policy serves to drive up housing costs.

“Rental housing policy is heavily regulated at the state and local level,” said Kenny Parcell, president of the National Association of Realtors. make rental housing even more competitive and therefore more expensive for tenants.

Additionally, he added, “the federal government’s expanded role in tenancy policy also places an even greater undue burden on married housing providers.”

NAR will participate in an industry challenge presented by the administration to promote tenant-centric practices, but said rising rents are more about supply and demand.

“Rents are rising, driven by inflation and exacerbated by the housing shortage,” Parcell said. “We encourage the administration to take a deeper look at how it can address the root causes of rent affordability, namely the supply of affordable housing.”

The National Apartment Association, with a network of more than 95,000 members owning and operating more than 11.6 million apartments worldwide, is committed to promoting resident programs and practices, such as helping tenants establish and improve credit by reporting positive rent payments to credit bureaus, through their website, industry events and other content channels.

But the association still expressed frustration with the outcome and resistance to further interventions.

“For months, the National Apartment Association has worked in good faith with the White House,” said Bob Pinnegar, president and CEO of the NAA. “We remain committed to promoting the services and practices of industry residents. The NAA has also made clear industry opposition to increased federal involvement in the landlord-tenant relationship. Complex housing policy is a national and local problem and the best solutions use carrots rather than sticks.