On Jan. 25, 2023, the Biden administration announced new federal actions impacting renters and housing market participants throughout the nation. In connection with this announcement, the Biden administration released its Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights (the Blueprint), which sets forth the following five guiding principles underlying directives to various federal agencies with the goal of enhancing renters: (1) access to safe, quality, accessible and affordable housing; (2) clear and fair leases; (3) education, enforcement and enhancement of rights; (4) the right to organize; and (5) eviction prevention, diversion and relief. This announcement follows the administration’s issuance of its Housing Supply Action Plan in May 2022.
Guiding Principles and Directives to Federal Agencies:
As noted above, the Blueprint sets forth five guiding principles, including corresponding directives to applicable federal agencies for the purposes of advancing each principle. The Blueprint implicates several federal agencies with statutory authority encompassing multiple jurisdictions, including, but not limited to, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Justice (DOJ), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Defense (DOD), among others. Below is an outline of the five guiding principles and some of the related material actions to be implemented by applicable federal agencies:
- Access to Safe, Quality, Accessible and Affordable Housing: The Blueprint notes that renters should have access to safe and affordable housing and should pay no more than 30% of household income on housing costs. The following federal agencies will engage in related actions to implement this principle:
- The FTC will explore ways to expand the use of its authority under the FTC Act to take enforcement action against practices that unfairly prevent consumers from obtaining and retaining housing. The FTC and CFPB will be issuing a Request for Information (RFI) to obtain data regarding practices that unfairly prevent consumers from obtaining and retaining housing.
- DOJ will host a workshop with law, technology and other subject matter experts on the impact of modern methods of information sharing in consumer-facing markets.
- FHFA will commence classifying multifamily loans with loan agreements that restrict rents at levels affordable to households with incomes between 80% and 120% of Area Median Income as “mission driven” in order to increase multifamily housing affordability.
- DOD will ensure that military members can receive housing assistance from their installation Military Housing Office regardless of whether they live on- or off-base.
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will seek public comment on ways it can improve its Section 504 regulations and the accessibility standards for HUD-assisted facilities.
- Clear and Fair Leases: The Blueprint notes that renters should have clear and fair leases with defined rental terms, rights and responsibilities, without mandatory arbitration clauses, unauthorized terms, hidden or illegal fees, false representations or other unfair or deceptive practices. The following federal agencies will engage in related actions to implement this principle:
- USDA will establish certain initiatives to advance clear and fair leases, including developing a clear and fair lease that is similar to the model lease used in HUD Section 8 properties; creating a tenant grievance FAQ outline; and promulgating a Tenant Rights and Responsibilities brochure modeled after HUD Multifamily’s brochure for assisted-housing residents.
- Education, Enforcement and Enhancement of Rights: The Blueprint calls on federal, state and local governments to do all they can to ensure renters know their rights and to protect renters from unlawful discrimination and exclusion. The following federal agencies will engage in related actions to implement this principle:
- The CFPB will identify guidance or rules to ensure that the background screening industry complies with applicable law, and coordinate enforcement efforts with the FTC to ensure background check companies are using reasonable practices to ensure accurate information in the credit reporting system.
- The CFPB will also coordinate with federal and state agencies to prevent tenant screening companies from illegally disseminating misleading information about tenants.
- HUD, FHFA, FTC and USDA will work with CFPB to release best practices on the use of tenant screening reports.
- HUD will explore opportunities to address source of income discrimination through guidance. Fannie Mae launched the Expanded Housing Choice pilot program to offer a pricing incentive to property owners who agree not to discriminate against voucher holders.
- The Right to Organize: The Blueprint notes that renters should have the freedom to organize without obstruction or harassment from their housing provider or property manager. The Blueprint directs the following federal agencies to engage in the following actions:
- DOD commits to ensuring that military members living in DOD’s government-owned, government-controlled or privatized housing have the right to organize.
- HUD’s Office of Multifamily Housing is developing a notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) to distribute appropriated funds to support tenant capacity-building activities. In addition, the office will build on existing training and technical assistance strategies to promote engagement with residents and implementation of the Rental Assistance Demonstration resident protections.
- Eviction Prevention, Diversion and Relief: The Blueprint notes that 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 following federal agencies will engage in related actions to implement this principle:
- HUD will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking that will require PHAs administering a public housing program and owners of project-based rental assistance properties to provide no less than 30 days advanced notification of lease termination due to nonpayment of rent.
- HUD will award $20 million for the Eviction Protection Grant Program in fiscal year 2023.
- FHFA, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae commit to publishing information about the Enterprise Look-Up Tools, which allow tenants to determine if their property is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac financing and requires the 30-day notice to vacate for nonpayment of rent.
- Freddie Mac is conducting research on marketable baseline tenant protections and plans to publish a paper as part of FHFA’s Equitable Housing Finance Plan initiative.
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s Government Relations practice group is uniquely equipped to assist any stakeholders looking to interface with federal agencies implicated by this announcement, relevant policymakers in Congress or in the administration, as well as in preparing comments in response to forthcoming proposed rules previewed in this announcement.
THIS DOCUMENT IS INTENDED TO PROVIDE YOU WITH GENERAL INFORMATION REGARDING THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATIONS ANNOUNCEMENT ON RENTAL POLICY. THE CONTENTS OF THIS DOCUMENT ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE SPECIFIC LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CONTENTS OF THIS DOCUMENT OR IF YOU NEED LEGAL ADVICE AS TO AN ISSUE, PLEASE CONTACT THE ATTORNEYS LISTED OR YOUR REGULAR BROWNSTEIN HYATT FARBER SCHRECK, LLP ATTORNEY. THIS COMMUNICATION MAY BE CONSIDERED ADVERTISING IN SOME JURISDICTIONS.