White House Aims for More Involvement in Landlord/Tenant Relationships. Not Everyone’s Happy About That
The Biden administration on Jan. 25 announced new actions intended to increase fairness in the rental market and further principles of fair housing. Not everyone in the multifamily industry is happy with the direction these actions are taking.
In short, the White House is seeking greater federal involvement in the process of ensuring fairness. Among other initiatives, the Federal Housing Finance Agency will launch a new public process to examine proposed actions promoting renter protections and limits on “egregious” rent increases for future investments, and the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will begin collecting information to identify practices that “unfairly” prevent applicants and tenants from accessing or staying in housing in order to inform enforcement and policy actions under each agency’s jurisdiction.
Further, the Biden administration announced a Renter’s Bill of Rights. Its principles include the following:
- Safe, Quality, Accessible, and Affordable Housing: Renters should have access to housing that is safe, decent, and affordable.
- Clear and Fair Leases: Renters should have a clear and fair lease that has defined rental terms, rights, and responsibilities.
- Education, Enforcement, and Enhancement of Renter Rights: Federal, state, and local governments should do all they can to ensure renters know their rights and to protect renters from unlawful discrimination and exclusion.
- The Right to Organize: Renters should have the freedom to organize without obstruction or harassment from their housing provider or property manager.
- Eviction Prevention, Diversion, and Relief: Renters should be able to access resources that help them avoid eviction, ensure the legal process during an eviction proceeding is fair, and avoid future housing instability.
The administration also said it would hold quarterly meetings with “a broad, diverse, and varying group of tenants and tenant advocates” in order to ensure that they “continue to have a seat at the table and can share ambitious ideas to strengthen tenant protections.” It also announced the Resident-Centered Housing Challenge, a call to action to housing providers and other stakeholders to strengthen practices and make their own independent commitments that improve the quality of life for renters.
Among the stakeholders cited by the White House for pursuing their own initiatives in support of fair housing were the National Multifamily Housing Council, the National Apartment Association and the National Association of Realtors. All three groups issued statements expressing varying degrees of dismay with the administration’s approach.
“While they have rejected calls for failed policies such as national rent control, we are disappointed they are pursuing potentially duplicative and onerous regulations that are already appropriately addressed under state and local law,” NMHC said in a statement. “These efforts will do nothing to address the nation’s housing shortage and could discourage much-needed investments in housing. We continue to urge the administration to prioritize enacting the Housing Supply Action Plan they issued in May. The best renter protection is an abundant supply of housing.”
Bob Pinnegar, NAA’s president and CEO, said, “For months the National Apartment Association… worked with the White House in good faith. We stand by our commitment to promote industry resident services and practices. NAA also made clear the industry’s opposition to expanded federal involvement in the landlord/tenant relationship. Complex housing policy is a state and local issue and the best solutions utilize carrots over sticks.”
NAR president Kenny Parcell also pointed to increased housing supply as the best solution, and added, “Rental housing policy is heavily regulated at the state and local level. Federally enacted policies can potentially drive housing providers out of the market, which will have an immediate and long-term impact of making rental housing even more competitive and, therefore, more expensive for renters.
“Expanding the federal government’s role in rental policy also places an even greater undue burden on mom-and-pop housing providers,” he continued. “We will continue to advocate for common sense solutions that do not negatively impact small housing providers and address affordability by increasing the housing supply.”
A more favorable response came from Jacqueline Waggoner, president of solutions, Enterprise Community Partners. “We’re glad to see the White House embrace many of the recommendations Enterprise Community Partners has endorsed around fair housing and equity in the rental market,” she said. “The combination of outlining protections while collaborating with housing providers to identify additional solutions is critical as we work towards long-term policies that keep people stably housed and preserve affordable homes. We are also particularly pleased to see source of income discrimination highlighted as a major barrier to accessing an affordable home – far too often, denying housing to someone based on how they plan to pay rent is used as a proxy for housing discrimination.”
NMHC summed up, “The competitive and professionally managed apartment industry is, by definition, resident-centered. There is no rental housing industry without our residents. We look forward to working with the administration and related federal agencies in finding productive solutions to the nation’s housing affordability crisis.”