In response to skyrocketing rent payments across the country in recent years, the Biden administration unveiled new actions Wednesday to protect tenants, make rent more affordable and improve fairness in the marketplace. of rental housing.
Various agencies are expected to participate in improving conditions for tenants, taking action along with a set of principles outlined by the administration focused on tenant rights.
This plan serves as the foundation for future actions by the federal government, state and local entities, as well as the private sector, in an effort to strengthen tenant protection and promote rental affordability.
And it follows some of the strongest federal tenant support in history, with the government providing an unprecedented $46 billion in emergency rental funds to struggling renters affected by the pandemic.
The agencies involved include the Federal Trade Commission, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Justice.
More than a third of the US population, 44 million households, rent their homes. Before the pandemic, there were more than 2 million eviction cases occurring annually and approximately 900,000, disproportionately affecting Black women and their children.
During the worst of the pandemic, the federal government’s moratorium on evictions and historic rent relief outflow kept at least a million at-risk renters housed. But over the last year, rents have skyrocketed and some of the largest corporate landlords have expanded their holdings and increased their profits.
The actions outlined Wednesday focus on landlord practices, rental housing financing, and ways to support tenants who may be unfairly locked out of renting.
Here is what some of the agencies will do:
The FTC will examine a variety of practices that affect the rental market, including the use of tenant background checks, the use of algorithms in tenant screenings, the provision of notices of adverse action by landlords and property management companies, properties, 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 compliance efforts with the FTC to ensure tenants have accurate information on their credit reports and hold background check companies accountable for their procedures.
FHFA will initiate a process to examine limits on egregious rent increases and tenant protection proposals for future investment. That’s in addition to actions announced in November that encourage financing of multi-family loans that guarantee affordable housing.
HUD will propose requiring public housing authorities and owners of rental assistance properties to provide at least 30 days’ notice before terminating a lease for nonpayment of rent. The DOJ plans to look into sharing anticompetitive information, including in rental markets.
The administration also laid out its guiding principles in its “Plan for a Tenants’ Bill of Rights,” which, while unenforceable, is meant to underscore the protections the administration says all tenants deserve.
These include access to safe, quality, and affordable housing; clear and fair leases, and access to eviction prevention and rent relief resources to remain in sustainable housing. The plan also looks to federal, state and local governments to ensure that 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 companies and housing industry advocates asking them to strengthen practices and make independent commitments to improve conditions for tenants.
Some entrants include Realtor.com, which will make landlords who accept housing choice vouchers visible in rental searches; and the National Association of Realtors, which will provide property managers with resources on tenant-focused best practices, such as information on rental assistance and the use of alternative credit scores for applicants without a detailed credit history.
The Biden administration has made several announcements that address housing challenges. Last May, the administration released a housing supply action plan, setting a goal of closing America’s housing supply shortfall in five years. And last summer, the government unveiled a plan to reduce housing discrimination.
Housing advocates welcomed the administration’s announcement, even though it fell short of the stronger protections for renters they’d like to see.
“Strengthening and enforcing tenant protections is critically important to addressing the broader housing crisis,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “There is a tremendous imbalance of power in our housing system that is heavily weighted in favor of landlords at the expense of low-income renters and other underserved people, putting families at greater risk of housing instability and homelessness. and fuels racial inequality.”
Yentel said that while the administration’s announcements are an important step toward achieving President Joe Biden’s commitment to establish a Tenants’ Bill of Rights, it was a missed opportunity to tie tenant protections to landlords getting backed loans. by the federal government and other assistance.
“An unfortunate omission from the White House Plan is any administrative action to hold corporate owners accountable for egregious, predatory, and often illegal behavior during and after the pandemic,” Yentel said.
Last year, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released the results of a year-long investigation into the eviction practices of large corporate landlords. The Democratic-led investigation found that some businesses engaged in abusive tactics to drive tenants out of their homes during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, others in the housing industry say this type of federal involvement in housing policy serves to increase housing costs.
“Rental housing policy is heavily regulated at the state and local level,” said Kenny Parcell, president of the National Association of Realtors. impact of making rental housing even more competitive and therefore more expensive for renters.”
What’s more, he added, “expanding the federal government’s role in rental policy also places an even greater undue burden on family housing providers.”
NAR will participate in an industry challenge set by the administration to promote tenant-centric practices, but said rising rents are more a matter of supply and demand.
“Rents are rising, driven by inflation and exacerbated by housing shortages,” Parcell said. “We encourage the administration to take a deeper look at how it can address the root causes of rental affordability, namely the supply of affordable housing.”
The National Apartment Association, with a network of more than 95,000 members who own and operate more than 11.6 million apartments worldwide, is committed to promoting resident programming and practices, such as helping renters to Build and improve credit by reporting positive rental payments to credit bureaus, through your website, industry events, and other content channels.
But still, the association expressed frustration with the result and resistance to further interventions.
“For months, the National Apartment Association worked with the White House in good faith,” said Bob Pinnegar, NAA President and CEO. “We remain committed to promoting the services and practices of industry residents. NAA also made clear the industry’s opposition to more federal involvement in the landlord-tenant relationship. Complex housing policy is a state and local problem and the best solutions use carrots instead of sticks.”