Housing justice advocates weigh in on White House plan to bolster tenant protections

By: - January 26, 2023 6:18 am

Building more housing doesn’t protect people from unreasonable rent increases, address the eviction process or prevent large corporations from buying available housing stock and further driving up prices. (Photo: Ronda Churchill)

Amid rising rents nationally and people still struggling to maintain housing, the White House released a series of non-binding guidelines Wednesday in an effort to connect renters to affordable housing and direct agencies to bolster tenant protections. 

In the “Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights,” the Biden-Harris Administration outlined efforts to address fair leasing, eviction prevention, accessible affordable housing and renter’s rights. 

Laura Martin, the executive director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) said the blueprint included some key wins housing justice organizers have been pushing for and shows “tenant leaders really shaped those policies.”

But there is more to be done both federally and statewide, she said. 

“The federal government has a lot of power to address the imbalance of power between landlords and tenants,” she said. “We do think the White House has a role, the federal government has a role, in correcting that imbalance of power. There needs to be more material relief to tenants.” 

More than 44 million households, 35% of the U.S. population, rents, according to the blueprint. The White House noted rents increased an estimated 17.2% nationally between February 2021 and 2022. 

Rent increased more than a 20% in some parts of Nevada, including Southern Nevada. 

“Many rental housing providers act responsibly and provide tenant protections beyond what is required by federal, state and local laws,” the White House wrote. “However, research and reporting have documented ways that some renters are exploited by housing providers—who do not abide by the law or the lease agreement—with little recourse that results in the loss of their housing.”

The blueprint is only intended to act as a guideline. 

The White House wrote the outline doesn’t “supersede, modify, or direct an interpretation of any existing Federal, state, or local statute, regulation or policy.”

PLAN is part of a national network of tenants’ rights and housing justice organizers that, during the pandemic, called on federal lawmakers and the White House to bolster tenant rights and consider efforts to stabilize skyrocketing rents. 

Martin said tenants, including some from Nevada, spoke with the administration about their struggles to stay housed and influenced the guidelines released Wednesday. 

Actions include asking the Federal Trade Commission to collect information to “to identify practices that unfairly prevent applicants and tenants from accessing or staying in housing.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is looking into a rule requiring public housing authorities to give tenants a 30 day notice before evicting them for the non-payment of rent. 

The proposal also sought commitments from the National Apartment Association and the National Association of Realtors to help tenants improve credit and create resources to help residents who use Housing Choice Vouchers. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to Wednesday’s announcement, “will issue guidance and coordinate enforcement efforts with the FTC to ensure accurate information in the credit reporting system and to hold background check companies accountable for having unreasonable procedures.”

Martin said there are other opportunities the agency could pursue to investigate issues like rent gouging, no-cause evictions and other deceptive practices in the rental application process.  

“The practice of accepting dozens and sometimes hundreds of applications then not renting to anybody I feel is a fraudulent and deceptive practice,” she added. 

Lawmakers in the 2021 Nevada legislative session proposed placing stipulations on when landlords can collect rental application fees and curbing hidden fees associated with rentals. 

The bill, which was opposed by the Nevada Apartment Association and groups representing realtors, passed out of the senate but Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who works for a real estate title company , declined to give it a hearing, effectively killing the legislation

During the last year, state and local lawmakers have allocated funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal relief bill signed by Biden in 2021, to invest in the creation and preservation of affordable housing.

Construction alone won’t fix the problem 

Nevada lacks an estimated 105,000 affordable housing units.

While housing stock is needed, Martin said building housing alone won’t address issues other problems renters face. 

“That is where we feel the problem actually lies,” she said. “We know a lot of our local legislators think, ‘oh we just have to build more houses.’ ”

But building more housing, she said, doesn’t protect people from unreasonable rent increases, address the eviction process or prevent large corporations from buying available housing stock and further driving up prices.

“This all leads to out of control prices for housing and leaving the Nevadans who are actually trying to make a life here without stable housing,” Martin said. 

But more needs to be done federally as well as statewide. 

For one, Martin said lawmakers need to realize “housing is not a commodity.”

“It’s not to be used for Wall Street to make money,” she said. “Housing is health care. It’s educational stability. It’s a lot of things but should not be looked at as a way for folks to get rich.”

PLAN hosted a watch party for Gov. Joe Lombardo’s State of the State address Monday. Following remarks, Martin said members noted that Lombardo didn’t address the state’s housing crisis.  

“The first thing people said was ‘why didn’t he talk about housing,’ “Martin said. “I think that’s what folks are waiting for. We have to get serious about it.” 

During his address Lombardo did mention housing while expressing a desire that more publicly owned federal land be made available for development. 

Martin said she also hasn’t heard much from legislative Democrats on how they plan to address the housing crisis. 

“We have heard as we are talking about our other bills with other city and county agencies that (Assemblywoman) Sandra Jauregui has an omnibus housing bill, which is apparently addressing rent and evictions,” she said. “She has not talked to us. I don’t think she will.”  

Nevada Current reached out to Jauregui and the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus Wednesday afternoon to confirm the status of a housing bill, but they didn’t respond. 

Jauregui introduced a bill draft request on housing in August, but no text for the bill has been included.   

Martin said housing justice organizers still want to work with Jauregui on the bill’s language and hopes whatever proposal is put forward is tenant-focused.

Martin wants Nevada to consider a bill on good cause eviction, which would limit a landlord’s ability to evict without cause. Other states, such as New York, have debated similar legislation.

At a recent press conference warning of the emerging eviction crisis following the end of rental assistance, the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada urged lawmakers to pursue several pieces of legislation to bolster tenant protections.

Proposals included regulating rental application fees, lengthening the period of no-cause eviction from 30 to 60 days and overhauling Nevada’s summary eviction process, a unique process that requires a tenant to make the first court filing after receiving a notice from the landlord.

Attorneys with the group are asking lawmakers to reauthorize legislation that passed in the 2021 session that pauses an eviction if a tenant has applied for rental assistance and is waiting for the application to be processed. The law sunsets in June.

This article was updated to correct Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui’s job title.

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.