New Year, New Rental Housing Laws

As a landlord, it’s crucial to keep up to date with your state and local rental housing laws to prevent legal issues. Each year brings with it new legislation, and 2019 was no exception. Some of the changes were positive, some negative, and some were downright crazy. While the list of new laws is far too long to cover in this post, here’s a look at some of the most notable ones that were passed in 2019:

Illinois: Service Animal Documentation

Service animals can complicate the “no pets” policy, but Illinois’ new law seeks to meet tenants and property owners in the middle. The new law allows rental owners to require service animal documentation for applicants or tenants who ask them to make an exception to their no pets policy. The documentation will state the tenant’s disability as well as their disability-related need for the animal. The law prohibits pet-related deposits and fees, but it does allow properties to charge tenants for any repairs caused by the service animal that goes beyond normal wear and tear.

Portland, Oregon: Resident Screening Restrictions

Portland’s new ordinance restricts the property owner’s ability to perform tenant screening to two options. The property owner can use the city’s “low barrier” criteria or adopt an individualized assessment model. The “low barrier” screening process offers landlords a standard set of criteria that allows rental candidates who have gone at least three years without a misdemeanor (or seven years, in the case of a felony) to be considered during the application process. Unfortunately, the low-barrier policy doesn’t include exceptions for those convicted of violent crimes.

Landlords can apply more stringent screening criteria, but if they do, they’re required to give the applicants an individual assessment. If the applicant is denied due to housing barriers (like credit or criminal history) the landlord must allow them the opportunity to appeal the decision.

The ordinance also requires landlords to consider applications on a first-come, first-serve basis after providing 72 hours of notice for available apartments. Applicants don’t need to provide proof of citizenship or provide a government-issued photo ID if they have other forms of photo identification that can be used to verify their identity.

New York: Eviction Records

New York’s new law states that property owners and managers cannot refuse to rent to an applicant based on pending or prior landlord-tenant litigation. Additionally, it establishes a “rebuttal presumption” that an owner is in violation if they request eviction records from a screening company or inspects related court records and the applicant is denied. Violations of this law aren’t minor, either. Each violation could cost anywhere between $500 – $1000 each.

California: Rent Control, Eviction Regulations, and Relocation Fees

California passed several number of significant rental housing laws this year. The first is a rent control law that limits annual rent increases to 5%, plus inflation. The inflation figure will be set regionally. The law also caps exempt properties that are less than 15 years old and most single-family homes unless they’re owned by a corporation or an LLC in which at least one member is a corporation.

Additionally, the law imposes new “just cause” eviction rules and relocation assistance – or rent waivers for “no-fault” evictions. Landlords will be required to list one of several reasons why they want to evict a tenant from their property. This applies to any tenant who has been living at the property for 12 months or more. The reasons include:

  1. Nonpayment of rent
  2. Breach of material lease
  3. Nuisance
  4. Criminal activity by the tenant
  5. Assigning or subletting in violation of a lease
  6. Refusal to allow the owner to enter the unit

There is also a no-fault just cause stipulation that grants the owner the right to evict the tenant if the owner intends to occupy the unit or make renovations to the property, but it must be clearly stated in the lease. The owner would still be required to pay a relocation fee. This law went into effect on January 1, 2020, and will expire after 10 years.

Seattle, Washington: Renter’s Right to a Roommate

Seattle’s ordinance gives tenants the right to add a roommate, family member, or family members of a roommate to the lease as long as they remain compliant with the unit’s occupancy limit. They must also provide a 30-day notice. Property owners are prohibited from imposing any conditions – and yes, that includes screening the new resident.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of how you feel about any new housing laws, it’s essential to know how they will affect your properties and processes. It can be challenging to keep up to date, but doing so will potentially save you time, money, and litigation.

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