Tenant protections – letter to council Nov 20, 2016
November 19, 2016
Mayor Flitner and Jackson Town Council
Tenant protections in the Town of Jackson
Dear Mayor Flitner and Councilors,
Shelter JH is encouraged that you are discussing tenant protections in Jackson. As we have worked with our membership of tenants and low-income workers, we have found a tremendous need for basic tenant protections. Wyoming laws disproportionately favor landlords and provide virtually no protections to tenants, and our local ordinances contain nothing at all on the subject of landlord-tenant law. When we don’t take care of our employees, it’s not only bad for them as human beings, it harms our community and economy by making it difficult for business owners to retain quality employees.
We recognize you are working hard to provide housing and to encourage the private sector to do the same. We also support you taking action to protect those of us who have found housing and are vulnerable to mistreatment because we lack leverage and legal protections.
We have investigated options for what our Town can do, and researched what other communities have done. We believe it would be prudent to start with easier actions, such as notice requirements or non-retaliation rules, assess how they go, and then tackle more challenging and impactful areas, such as rent stabilization measures. Understanding that resolutions do not allow for enforcement, we ask that you pass ordinances and assist with changing the behavior of those that choose to mistreat tenants. Here are six areas we recommend discussing:
- Notice requirements
The Town could pass an ordinance establishing a minimum of 30 days (for monthly lease) or 60 days (on a longer lease) notice before (1) no-cause eviction, (2) non-renewal of lease, (3) rent increase.
- Habitability and repairs
The Town could pass an ordinance that requires landlords to (1) maintain a minimum standard of habitability (including heat and appliances like stoves and refrigerators, beyond the plumbing, electricity and running water standard required by the state), and (2) make repairs to property as needed to keep premises in condition in which they were rented, other than to repair damage caused by tenant. This would, in addition to water/electricity as currently required. The Town could then create an inspection program, similar to how HUD requires habitability inspections for units rented with federal funding. The Town could also establish a small fund to support landlords in making these repairs.
- Fair Housing / Non-discrimination
The Town could pass an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against tenants, or potential tenants, in addition to existing federal Fair Housing protections. This ordinance would protect people based on immigration status and sexual orientation – two areas that are not protected by federal laws.
The Town could pass an ordinance stating that landlords may not retaliate against tenants who exercise their other rights.
- Lease content and renewal
The Housing Department could provide a “standard lease” that includes all of the rights as outlined in the other sections here, to ensure that leases are in compliance. Additionally, the Town could pass an ordinance establishing (1) a “first right of refusal” when a lease is available for renewal and the existing tenants haven’t violated their lease in any way, (2) leases automatically default to month-to-month leases upon expiration of previous lease.
- Rent increase cap, a.k.a. rent stabilization
The Town could pass an ordinance preventing egregious rent increases. This is not “rent control,” but simply a limit on how much landlords can raise rent in a year. We recommend working with stakeholders including landlords, tenants, business owners and housing advocates to determine the appropriate percentage – for example, we know 20% or 40% are too much, but perhaps 3% or 5% or something similar, tied to inflation, would be acceptable.
Thank you for considering these options. Please know we truly appreciate your commitment to protecting the most vulnerable members of our community through tenant protections. ShelterJH is ready and willing to support your work through legal research, research into what ordinances have been effective in other communities, and conversations with the public and stakeholders.