In response to rising rent payments across the country in recent years, the Biden administration on Wednesday unveiled new actions to protect renters, make rents more affordable and improve fairness in the rental housing market.
Multiple agencies are expected to participate in improving conditions for tenants, taking actions in conjunction with a set of principles set out by the administration that focus on tenant rights.
This blueprint informs further action by the federal government, state and local entities, as well as the private sector, in efforts to strengthen tenant protections and encourage rent affordability.
And it follows some of the most robust federal support for tenants in history, with the government providing an unprecedented $46 billion in emergency rental funds to tenants struggling and impacted by the pandemic.
The agencies involved include the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 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 – rents their homes. Before the pandemic, more than 2 million eviction fillings and approximately 900,000 evictions occurred annually, disproportionately affecting black women and their children.
During the worst of the pandemic, the federal government’s moratorium on evictions and historic housing benefit outflows kept at least a million high-risk tenants housed. But over the past year, rents have risen and some of the largest corporate landlords have expanded their holdings and increased profits.
The actions outlined on Wednesday focus on landlord practices, rental housing financing and ways to support tenants who may be unfairly barred from renting.
Here’s what some agencies will do:
The FTC will investigate 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 adverse action notices by landlords and property management companies, and how tenants’ revenue streams an applicant factors in housing decisions. It is the first time the FTC has filed a request for information about unfair practices in the rental market.
The CFPB will provide guidance and coordinate enforcement efforts with the FTC to ensure tenants have accurate information in their credit reports and to hold background check companies accountable for their procedures.
The FHFA will begin a process to examine limits on blatant rent increases and tenant protection proposals for future investments. This is in addition to the actions announced in November that stimulate the financing of multifamily loans that guarantee affordable housing.
HUD will propose requiring social housing authorities and rental assistance home owners to provide at least 30 days’ notice before terminating a lease for non-payment of rent. The DOJ plans to look into anti-competitive information sharing, including in rental markets.
The administration has also set out its guiding principles in its “Blueprint for a Tenant’s Statement,” which, while not enforceable, aims to underscore the protections the administration believes every tenant deserves.
These include access to safe, quality, affordable housing; clear and fair tenancy agreements, and access to eviction prevention and rental aids to stay in sustainable housing. The blueprint also looks to federal, state and local governments to ensure tenants know their rights and are protected from unlawful discrimination and to protect tenants’ right to organize.
The announcement on Wednesday also included a call to action for private companies and housing advocates, asking them to strengthen practices and make independent commitments to improve conditions for tenants.
Some participants include Realtor.com, which makes landlords who welcome Housing Choice Vouchers visible in searches for rental properties; and the National Association of Realtors, which will provide property managers with information on tenant-centered best practices, such as providing rent assistance information and using alternate credit scores for applicants without a detailed credit history.
The Biden administration has made several announcements about housing challenges. Last May, the government released a housing supply action plan, aiming to close the housing shortage in the US within five years. And last summer, the government unveiled a plan to reduce housing discrimination.
Housing advocates applauded the government’s announcement, despite not having the more robust tenant protections they would like to see.
“Strengthening and enforcing tenant protections is vital to addressing the broader housing crisis,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “There is a huge imbalance of power in our housing system that skews sharply in favor of landlords at the expense of low-income renters and other marginalized renters, putting families at greater risk of housing instability and fueling homelessness and racial inequality.”
Yentel said that while the administration’s announcements are an important step toward fulfilling President Joe Biden’s commitment to draft a Bill of Rights for tenants, it was a missed opportunity to strengthen tenant protections. link to landlords receiving federally backed loans and other assistance.
“An unfortunate omission in the White House blueprint is any administrative measure to hold corporate landlords 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 findings from a years-long investigation into the eviction practices of large corporate landlords. That’s according to the Democrat-led survey some companies engaged in abusive tactics to evict tenants from their homes during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, others in the housing industry say this kind of federal involvement in housing policy increases housing costs.
“Rental housing policies are highly regulated at the state and local levels,” said Kenny Parcell, president of the National Association of Realtors. impact of making rental properties even more competitive and therefore more expensive for tenants.”
What’s more, he added, “expanding the federal government’s role in rent policy also places an even greater unnecessary burden on mom-and-pop landlords.”
NAR will participate in an industry challenge set up 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 the housing shortage,” says Parcell. “We encourage the administration to take a deeper look at how it can address the root causes of rent affordability, namely affordable housing supply.”
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 programs and practices such as helping tenants build and improve credit by reporting positive rent payments to credit bureaus, through their website, industry events and other content channels.
Still, the association expressed frustration with the outcome and resistance to further interventions.
“For months, the National Apartment Association worked in good faith with the White House,” said Bob Pinnegar, president and CEO of NAA. “We remain committed to promoting services and practices for industry residents. NAA also made it clear that the industry is resisting greater federal involvement in the landlord-tenant relationship. Complex housing policies are a state and local issue and the best solutions are carrots over sticks.”