Alabama advocates have mobilized to block an attempt to weaken protections for renters in the state’s landlord-tenant law. NLIHC State Coalition Partners, Arise Citizens’ Policy Project (ACPP) and the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama (LIHCA), are leading efforts to halt SB 291, a new bill that would favor landlords and threaten housing security for tenants across the state. Introduced on January 28 by State Senator Del Marsh (R), advocates say SB 291 represents the second major attack on renter protections in recent years.
In 2011, the state legislature passed provisions that eroded the renter safeguards established in the 2006 landlord-tenant law. “The 2006 landlord-tenant law clearly laid out a balanced set of protections for both sides of the rental relationship,” said Kimble Forrister, ACPP’s executive director. “Now, as if renters didn’t have a hard enough time, another bill would tilt the scales in favor of landlords and undermine important safeguards for renters.”
The legislation includes multiple “zero-tolerance” components and would unnecessarily penalize renters for lease violations that could easily be corrected. For instance, a tenant that breaches a lease with a no pet policy would no longer have the right to rectify the problem by selling the pet or giving it away, unless the landlord provides written consent for the tenant to cure the breach before facing penalties such as eviction. Current state law allows renters 14 days to resolve most lease violations that do not involve illegal drugs or weapon use.
SB 291 includes a provision that would consider any termination of electrical services a form of abandonment of the dwelling. Therefore, if any renter falls behind on his or her electric bill and power is cut off, the owner will have the ability to declare the property officially abandoned and remove all belongings from the property. Advocates assert that this provision would put low income renters, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, at greater risk of homelessness.
Advocates are also concerned about provisions in the bill to adjust deadlines and notice requirements associated with the rental relationship. Current state law requires landlords to provide tenants with a 14-day notice to terminate a lease for violations that do not involve failure to pay rent. The legislation would cut that notice period to seven days. Landlords would also be required to give four days’ notice to renters that fail to pay rent, whereas current law provides a full week notice. In addition, SB 291 would extend the deadline for landlords to return security deposits to former tenants from 35 days to 60 days.
ACPP and LIHCA have made this legislation a priority for the 2014 state legislative session and are leading other advocates to draw public attention to the bill and its prospective impact on low income renters. The organizations are also working closely with legislators to improve the bill and maintain proper rules for landlords and renters in the law. Advocates say state leadership has been responsive to their concerns and are confident the bill can be improved before passage. The legislative session is expected to end in early April.
For more information contact Stephen Stetson, Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, at Stephen@alarise.org.