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Legislative Action Outside the Beltway

Bills affecting property managers top state lawmaking dockets.

By Andrew Lomo
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With the federal government appearing in headlines daily, it’s easy to forget that state governments are just as busy—probably even more so. In fact, while the U.S. Congress typically introduces 1,000 to 1,500 bills per year, legislatures in the 50 states and the District of Columbia together typically introduce well over 120,000 pieces of legislation annually. And it seems that nearly every year, certain issues bubble to the top of legislative agendas across multiple states, resulting in similar bills being introduced throughout the country. Evidence of this is seen in the fact that, of the almost 600 state bills being monitored by IREM, three issues have been trending around the country: rent control, assistance animals and landlord/tenant laws.

Rent Control

Rent control is often considered by some state and local government officials as a means to create more affordable housing by limiting the amount a property owner can charge for renting out a home, apartment or other type of real estate. Rent control acts as a price ceiling by preventing rents either from being charged above a certain level or from increasing at a rate higher than a predetermined percentage. The amount of rent permitted may vary across jurisdictions and property types but is generally set at a level considered affordable to renters.

In February, Oregon became the first state to enact rent control statewide. The new law limits rent increases to 7 percent each year in addition to inflation. Subsidized rent is exempted, as is new construction for 15 years. If tenants leave their residences of their own volition, landlords will be able to increase the rent without a cap.

Illinois also introduced rent control legislation. House Bill 255, which was introduced in January, would have repealed a 1997 state law known as the Rent Control Preemption Act that prohibits municipalities from enacting rent control laws. In March, the bill died in committee by a vote of 4-2. On a local level, several states—among them California, New York, New Jersey and Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia—have municipalities that permit some form of residential rent control.

IREM is opposed to government control of rents and supports a property owner’s right to establish rents that produce sufficient income to accommodate the basic needs of residents and encourage investment in new construction and existing properties. IREM urges elected officials at all levels of government to oppose rent control as it significantly affects the housing inventory by accelerating the deterioration and loss of existing housing while discouraging the construction of new housing.

Schedule an In-District Meeting

The U.S. Congress will adjourn soon for its annual August recess, with the House of Representatives in recess from July 29 through September 6 and the Senate in recess August 5 through September 6.

This recess is an ideal opportunity to participate in IREM’s In-District Meetings initiative by connecting with U.S. senators and representatives while they are home. Meeting with Members of Congress is one of the most effective ways to influence the legislative process. They are more likely to support positions that their constituents feel strongly about.

Scheduling a meeting with your Member of Congress or district staff is easy. You can find your federal legislators and their contact information at irem.org/public-policy/in-district-meetings.

Meeting one-on-one with your legislators in their district offices may be the most common way to engage them, but it is far from the only way. Alternative approaches include inviting them to a chapter event or to tour one of your properties, or attending one of their town halls or other scheduled local events. Finding out about these scheduled events is as easy as calling legislators’ offices or visiting their websites.

Assistance Animals

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), individuals with a disability may request to keep an assistance animal, sometimes referred to as an emotional support animal or companion animal, as a reasonable accommodation to a housing provider’s pet restrictions. However, unlike service animals, which are specifically defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), assistance animals could be any type of animal and do not need to be specifically trained to carry out any task.

Over the last few years, property managers have seen a significant increase in the number of residents claiming their pets are assistance animals. Landlords have struggled to determine which residents legitimately need the pets for medical reasons and which have fraudulently obtained documentation to have assistance animals.

IREM is currently tracking legislation in 29 states that is designed to help curtail fraudulent requests by creating penalties for misrepresenting an animal as an assistance animal. A number of bills introduced in 2019 would create stiffer penalties for assistance animal fraud and make it a misdemeanor to lie about the need for an assistance animal or misrepresent a pet as being an assistance animal.

IREM supports and invites guidance from the government on the issue of assistance animals with respect to the ADA and the FHA.

Landlord/Tenant Laws

IREM has been tracking a variety of landlord- and tenant-related issues in 2019. In January, the Washington state legislature introduced Senate Bill 5600 and House Bill 1453, which would limit a property owner’s or manager’s ability to recover their property by:

  • changing “3-day to pay or vacate” to “14-day pay or vacate”
  • limiting return of possession of property to nonpayment of rent only
  • requiring all leases to be renewed or converted to month-to-month upon expiration of a fixed term
  • limiting recovery to collecting contractually obligated costs, including utilities
  • allowing tenancies to be reinstated after a court judgment has been won against the tenant for nonpayment
  • requiring third-party contractors to perform in-house maintenance upon move-out

Members of the IREM Inland Northwest and Western Washington Chapters reached out to their state legislators urging them to oppose both bills. After passing in both houses, the governor signed the Senate bill into law with a July 28, 2019, effective date.

In March, members of the IREM Georgia Chapter contacted their state legislators, asking them to oppose Georgia House Bill 346, which subsequently passed and was signed into law by the governor. The bill restricts a landlord’s rights by allowing a tenant to claim retaliation as a defense to an eviction by demonstrating that the landlord took action when the tenant complained to a governmental entity responsible for enforcing building or housing codes or a public utility, and the tenant:

  • claims a building or housing code violation or utility problem that is the duty of the landlord to repair
  • believes in good faith that the complaint is valid and that the violation or problem occurred
  • established, attempted to establish or participated in a tenant organization relative to the conditions of the property. 

Issue: July/August 2019  

Journal of Property Management

Andrew Lomo (alomo@irem.org) is government affairs liaison at IREM Headquarters in Chicago.

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