The Biden administration proposes to create a bill of rights for tenants

Housing rights activists and tenants protest evictions and the poor condition of their apartments outside the offices of landlord Broadway Capital in Chelsea, Massachusetts on April 25, 2022.

Brian Snyder | Reuters

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced new actions to protect renters across the United States, including trying to rein in practices that keep people out of housing and limiting exorbitant rent increases in some properties with government guaranteed mortgages.

A “Blueprint for a Tenant’s Bill of Rights” was included in the announcement. It outlines a set of principles on which the federal government and other entities must act, including “access to safe, quality, accessible and affordable housing” and “clear and fair leases.”

“Having the federal government and the White House talk about the need for a tenant bill of rights and endorse it is really important,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. .

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More than 44 million households, or about 35% of the US population, live in rental housing, according to the White House.

While the coronavirus pandemic has led to a wave of new protections and relief measures for tenants, including a historic pot of rental assistance for those who have fallen behind, most of that assistance has now gone dried up.

Advocates have long called on the government to address an affordability crisis facing tenants. Nearly half of renter households in the United States spend more than 30% of their income each month on rent and utilities, and 900,000 evictions took place each year before the public health crisis.

Perhaps rein in ‘blatant rent increases’

As part of Wednesday’s announcement, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and federal mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said they would consider possibly establishing protections for tenants that limit “gross rent increases” in properties backed by certain federal mortgages.

More than 28% of the national rental housing stock is federally funded, according to a calculation by the Urban Institute in 2020.

Rent protection on such properties “would be the single most important step the federal government could take,” Yentel said.

As part of the White House actions, the Federal Trade Commission said it would look for ways to expand its authority to take action against practices that “unfairly prevent consumers from obtaining and retaining housing.”

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The persistence of deportation information on certain background reports, as well as high filing fees and security deposits, are among those practices, Yentel said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also said it is moving to require certain rental property landlords to provide at least 30 days’ notice if they plan to terminate a tenant’s lease due to non-payment of rent. The agency will award $20 million for the Eviction Protection Grant Program, which will fund nonprofits and government agencies to provide legal assistance to low-income tenants at risk of eviction.

Bob Pinnegar, president and CEO of the National Apartment Association trade group, said the industry opposes 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,” Pinnegar said.

“Aggressive administrative action is so important”

While the measures announced by the Biden administration are historic, they will not solve the housing crisis in the United States, Yentel said.

What’s needed to fix the deep-seated problems, she said, is to build more affordable housing, create permanent, universal emergency housing assistance, and establish strong protections for renters.

However, Yentel added, since it is “difficult to see where the opportunities for these investments will come from this Congress, aggressive administrative action is so important.”