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On January 25, 2023, the White House Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council published a Blueprint for a Renter Bill of Rights (the “Renter Bill of Rights”) on behalf of the Biden‑Harris Administration (the “Administration”). The stated purpose of the Renter Bill of Rights is to “support the development of policies and practices that promote fairness for Americans living in rental housing”.
The Renter Bill of Rights is described as a non-binding statement of principles, and not an actual statement of U.S. government policy. It does not supersede, modify, or direct an interpretation of any existing Federal, state, or local statute, regulation, or policy. Rather, it appears to be a statement of the Administration’s “wants” with respect to renter protections, and a starting point from which to begin conversations regarding the same.
The Renter Bill of Rights addresses five so‑called “principles” that the Administration believes are essential to creating “fairness for renters in the housing market”. Each such principle and the Administration’s corresponding action plan is summarized below.
The Administration believes that renters should have access to safe and affordable housing, free of health and safety hazards, and that access to such housing should be free of significant barriers such as overly burdensome application and documentation requirements and screening. Further, the Administration believes that rent increases should be “reasonable”, with the acknowledgment that rents may need to increase to cover landlord operating costs.
The action plan described in the Renter Bill of Rights is broken down broadly into two categories: (i) Increasing Housing Affordability and Access, and (ii) Improving Housing Quality. The Administration intends to implement an action plan through various federal agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), the Federal Housing Finance Agency (“FHFA”), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), the Department of Defense (“DoD”), the Department of Treasury (“Treasury”), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), and the Department of Agriculture (“USDA”).
Specifically, the Administration announced the following actions:
Increasing Housing Affordability and Access
Improving Housing Quality
The Administration believes that “clear and fair leases” will assist with ensuring that tenants better understand the terms of the lease that they are signing, and that requiring “clear and fair leases” will reduce the number of leases that include unauthorized terms, hidden or illegal fees, false representations, or other unfair or deceptive practices. Specifically, the Administration is advocating for leases that are written in simple and clear language accessible to the renter, with a leasing process that ensures that the tenant understands the terms of the lease through a plain‑language briefing.
The Renter Bill of Rights describes only one action plan related to “clear and fair leases”. The USDA is in the process of developing a “clear and fair lease” that is similar to the model lease used in HUD Section 8 properties. The USDA intends to use this lease across their 400,000-unit multifamily portfolio. The USDA will also develop a Tenant’s Rights and Responsibilities brochure for tenants in rural areas.
The Administration believes that it is the responsibility of federal, state, and local governments to educate renters on their legal rights, and that the same governments should ensure that those rights are being enforced.
The Renter Bill of Rights focuses on using educational tools to address three specific issues: (i) Tenant Background Checks, (ii) Source of Income Discrimination, and (iii) Protecting Survivors of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking.
Tenant Background Checks
Source of Income Distribution
The Administration suggests that renters should have the freedom to organize without interference or harassment from their housing provider or property manager. Additionally, the Administration suggests that tenant associations should be recognized by their housing provider or management company, and that tenants should not be at risk of losing housing because of organizing.
The Bill of Rights proposes a handful of actions centered around tenant education, with different programs for different types of tenants:
The Administration suggests that avoiding housing instability requires that renters have access to resources that help them avoid eviction, and that eviction proceedings are fair. The administration believes that evictions should be limited to evictions for “just” or “good” cause, and that tenants should be able to avoid evictions through alternatives outside of the legal system, including negotiation, mediation, or arbitration.
If an eviction is filed, the Administration believes that tenants should be given 30 days’ notice, right to counsel, protection from extrajudicial evictions and lockouts, hearings in a language they can understand, independent hearing officers, a written record with the ability to present evidence, the right to conduct discovery and cross‑examination, and the ability for tenants to appeal eviction judgments without bond requirements. Further, the Administration believes that all eviction case filings should be immediately sealed and should remain sealed for minors, tenants who prevail in their eviction cases, and for tenants who reinstate their tenancy after entry of judgment.
The Renter Bill of Rights proposes certain actions to address the Administration’s concerns, including rental assistance grants, tenant notice requirements, and research on tenant protection plans to be published at a later date.
Specifically, the Administration announced the following actions:
In its current state, the Renter Bill of Rights is more of a statement of ideas and the beginning of a conversation than it is concrete policy. Most of the action plans and proposals are broad and will require significant additional detail and fine-tuning before any potential implementation. Nevertheless, the action plans and proposals have the potential to seriously affect owners and operators of multifamily housing. The good news is that the Administration appears to be interested in receiving input from owners and operators of multifamily housing. Owners and operators of multifamily housing should remain engaged with and apprised of developments arising out of the Renter Bill of Rights. We will continue to monitor these developments.