COUNCIL PASSES RENTERS’ ACCESS ACT, SETTING NATIONWIDE PRECEDENT FOR TENANT SCREENING REFORM

by Kristen Wilson

  • Posted on June 24, 2021

  • News

Today, City Council passed two bills that would regulate the tenant application and screening process and give renters a fair shot at securing long-term rental housing in the wake of the pandemic. Introduced by Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large), the bills aim to increase transparency and accountability by clarifying the criteria that landlords use when evaluating potential tenant, creating viable pathways for families to secure housing and achieve financial stability.

During the pandemic in Philadelphia, 49% of eviction filings occurred in majority-Black communities and 78% of eviction filings occurred in communities of color. The consequences of eviction records go far beyond the loss of shelter, and can lead to the loss of housing subsidies, ineligibility for public housing and being essentially barred from safe, affordable, and habitable private housing. Eviction filings have an especially disparate impact on Black women and their families, forcing many into unsafe, toxic, or illegal living arrangements and inciting dangerous cycles of generational poverty and instability. With the eviction moratorium set to expire this summer and thousands of families expected to move or risk displacement, the passage of these bills comes at a critical juncture

The first of the two bills increases transparency by requiring landlords to provide uniform, written rental screening criteria to prospective tenants and a written statement of reasons for that denial, including any third-party reports used in making the rental decision. The second bill regulates tenant screening practices and roots out biases by prohibiting blanket exclusions of people with eviction records, or based solely on a credit score; prohibiting a landlord from denying a rental application based on (1) failure to pay rent or utility bills during the COVID-19 emergency period, and (2) certain kinds of eviction records; and providing prospective tenants whose rental applications are denied the opportunity to dispute incorrect information or provide evidence of mitigating circumstances.
“Just like the job application process, every person has the right to be fairly evaluated when applying for rental housing.” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large).

“As Philadelphians recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic, these bills will ensure everyone has a fair chance at securing housing. This is especially important for working class Black women and their families, who have been discriminated against and effectively kept out of rental housing for far too long. With these bills, Philadelphia is continuing to set a nationwide precedent in protecting the rights and dignity of renters.”
“The pandemic has significantly exacerbated difficulties facing Black communities and other communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ people. These populations are most likely to have lost income during the pandemic, putting them at risk of eviction filings, and therefore putting them at risk of homelessness and instability beyond the pandemic,” said Rasheedah Phillips, Managing Attorney of Housing Policy at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. “ This legislation is vital to ensuring that tenants are treated fairly and has CLS’s full support.”

“Over the past few years, SeniorLAW Center has represented a number of clients who should never have had an eviction case filed against them, or who have won at trial,” said Daniel Hyman, Tenants’ Rights Attorney at SeniorLAW Center. “These seniors now have a permanent, public record showing that they have had a dispute with their landlord and will be screened out of other housing opportunities through no fault of their own. Other seniors are afraid to complain about bad landlords who refuse to make repairs because they are afraid of an eviction filing that will follow them for life. We should make it easier, not harder for our older population to find housing.”

The legislation was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Bobby Henon (6th District), Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), Helen Gym (At-Large), and Isaiah Thomas (At-Large). “Philadelphia has led the nation in working to end evictions in our city,” said Councilmember Helen Gym. “But past eviction records still devastate thousands of tenants, even when those eviction filings are dismissed in court. Having a filing on your record makes it more difficult to find safe and affordable housing, and hits Black women and families the hardest. That’s why I am proud to co-sponsor and support Councilmember Brooks’ bill to provide common sense protections for families seeking rental housing.”

“As Philadelphians put the pieces of their lives back together after the pandemic, the ability to secure stable rental housing is key to recovery,” said Councilmember Bobby Henon (6th District). “The Renters’ Access Act is particularly important for workers across the city, who have faced unprecedented losses over the past year. Given that many workers are required to live in the city as a condition of their employment, providing them with a fair shot at securing affordable housing is essential for our city’s economic recovery. I am proud to co-sponsor this important legislation that will ensure my constituents can live, work, and thrive in Philadelphia for years to come.”


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Kristen Wilson