“The time, energy and focus that the Biden-Harris administration has dedicated to strengthening tenant protections and to hearing directly from impacted people at the White House is significant and historic,” Dianne Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement.
As working- and middle-class Americans struggle to afford rising rental costs and a shortage of available units, the Biden administration is trying to provide some help.
The administration on Wednesday introduced several new efforts to protect the 44 million households who rent their homes, make renting more affordable, and to increase fairness in the rental market. The plans empower several federal agencies to fight on behalf of renters.
Here are the actions the administration announced:
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will collect information on different factors that affect the rental market—such as tenant background checks, the use of algorithms in tenant screenings, and how an applicant’s income source affects housing decisions—to identify unfair practices in the market.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will issue guidance to the FTC and coordinate enforcement efforts so that renters have accurate information in their credit reports.
- The Federal Housing Finance Agency will begin a public process to study placing limits on extreme rent increases at properties with federally-backed mortgages.
- The Department of Justice plans to evaluate anti-competitive information sharing in rental markets.
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development will propose a plan that requires public housing authorities and owners of rental assistance properties to give at least 30 days notice before terminating a lease due to nonpayment of rent.
The White House also released a Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights, a statement of the five principles guiding the federal government’s efforts to strengthen tenant protections and improve rental affordability. The principles are:
- Access to safe, quality, and affordable housing
- Clear and fair leases
- Federal, state, and local governments must ensure renters are aware of their legal rights and protect renters from unlawful discrimination and exclusion
- Renters should have the freedom to organize without obstruction or harassment from their housing provider or property manager.
- Access to eviction prevention and rent relief resources to avoid future housing instability.
The administration also rolled out a “Resident-Centered Housing Challenge,” which calls on housing providers to improve practices and make independent commitments that improve the quality of life for renters. The challenge also calls on state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments to embrace policies that promote fairness and transparency in the rental market.
A handful of private companies have already pledged to participate in the Challenge.
For example, Realtor.com will pilot a new listing process highlighting units and landlords that accept Housing Choice Vouchers, making it easier for renters to search for apartments to apply for.
The National Association of Realtors, meanwhile, will give property managers information about how to implement renter-focused best practices, such as providing information about rental assistance and using alternative credit scores for applicants without a detailed credit history.
Housing advocates praised the administration’s announcement, but called for even stronger renter protections.
“The time, energy and focus that the Biden-Harris administration has dedicated to strengthening tenant protections and to hearing directly from impacted people at the White House is significant and historic. It is farther than I’ve ever seen a White House go to amplify and promote the importance of renter rights and protections,” Dianne Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition said in a statement.
Where the White House could have gone further, according to Yentel, is taking greater action to “hold corporate landlords accountable for documented, egregious and often unlawful behavior.”
Some activists and tenant unions have called on the administration to issue a state of emergency on housing and study ways to limit rental costs, but as the Washington Post reported, administration officials pointed out that the president cannot regulate rent prices nationwide or change local zoning laws to make it easier to build new housing.
For Shamus Roller, executive director of the National Housing Law Project, that does not preclude greater national action.
“Rental housing used to be a local industry, but it is increasingly dominated by national and multinational entities,” Roller said. “The federal government must step in to address the price-fixing, collusion, and predatory practices that have harmed renters nationwide.”