Biden Administration Takes Steps Toward National Renters Bill of Rights
Landlords Fight More Federal Government Involvement in the Apartment Industry
By: Richard Lawson
President Biden and his administration have launched plans for a national renters bill of rights. (Getty Images)
The Biden administration set in motion plans to create a national renters bill of rights, tapping into a growing trend among states and cities around the country to address rental housing affordability.
In what it calls a "blueprint for a renters bill of rights," the administration is seeking to ensure that tenants can organize, without harassment from landlords, to put more conditions on how evictions can proceed and to create leases that are clearer and fairer.
In making the case, the White House states that housing has become less affordable since the onset of the pandemic, with “some landlords taking advantage of market conditions to pursue egregious rent increases.” Apartment landlord groups responded by expressing concern about the initiative, saying the federal government should focus on increasing housing availability rather than adding regulations.
Rents rose significantly in late 2021 and into early 2022, making housing affordability challenging for renters across the country’s largest metropolitan areas, particularly as bans on evictions during the pandemic were lifted. Rent control became a bigger topic as municipalities sought solutions.
Renters bill of rights ordinances that were passed in cities and counties took center stage in markets with some of the strongest rent growth in the country.
Many of the ordinances include more protections against evictions for renters and require advance notice of rent increases, some by as much as 60 days.
Legal Assistance Funding
President Biden's plan would include federal funding for legal assistance to low-income renters facing eviction.
Since being elected, Biden has taken steps to improve rental affordability, such as a plan announced last May to increase the nation's housing supply.
Organizations representing landlords have been working with the White House over the past several months to dissuade the administration from the path it is taking.
Bob Pinnegar, president of the National Apartment Association, said in a statement that it made clear the industry opposed increasing federal involvement in the rental business.
“Complex housing policy is a state and local issue and the best solutions utilize carrots over sticks,” Pinnegar said.
The administration’s plan does nothing to address the housing shortage, the National Multifamily Housing Council said in a statement. “The best renter protection is an abundant supply of housing,” the NMHC said.
Some 4.3 million apartments are needed by 2035, according to the NAA. Rental construction surged over the past year to reach record levels and has helped bring staunch rent growth, which slowed considerably in the back half of last year.
The NAA, however, did agree to promote "resident programming and practices, such as helping tenants build and improve credit through reporting of positive rent payments to credit bureaus, through their website, industry events and other content channels."
Among the numerous actions in Biden’s initiative, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau collect information on practices that unfairly keep renters from accessing or staying in their apartments.
That would include how algorithms are used in tenant screening. The information would guide enforcement against landlords.
The Justice Department also will have a workshop on anti-competitive information sharing in rental markets.
This issue arose with a lawsuit California and Washington renters filed last October against data company RealPage and some of the nation’s largest apartment owners and managers, alleging they colluded to set rents using algorithms that incorporated each other’s rents.