Rhode Island Lawmakers Champion Tenants’ Bill of Rights Amid Housing Crisis


In response to Rhode Island’s urgent housing crisis, legislators are calling for a comprehensive set of tenant safeguards known as the Tenants’ Bill of Rights. The proposed law, spearheaded by Rep. Cherie Cruz of Pawtucket and Sen. Tiara Mack of Providence, seeks to solve a variety of concerns that renters in the state confront, according to AOL.

Cruz, a tenant activist for Reclaim Rhode Island, has noticed a pattern that points to the need for better tenant safeguards. She described cases in which investors buy deteriorating rental houses, then raise rents and resort to systematic evictions when tenants want repairs. With renters accounting for 38% of Rhode Island households, Cruz and other progressive senators underscore the importance of enacting strong tenant protections.

According to Cruz and Mack (renters), expanding home supply is important, but it does not solve the urgent requirements of tenants dealing with the current housing crisis. As a result, they campaign for legislative measures that safeguard renters’ rights and assure access to safe and livable housing. The proposed Tenants’ Bill of Rights includes several major elements aimed at empowering renters and leveling the landlord-tenant relationship. The provisions include:

1. Legal Representation for Eviction

Individuals facing eviction would be entitled to legal assistance under Cruz’s proposed legislation, H7957. According to Cruz, tenants frequently face retaliatory evictions after reporting unsafe or uninhabitable conditions, but they may lack the resources to challenge such measures. Mack emphasized that low-income tenants presently have access to free legal representation through an American Rescue Plan Act-funded program. However, money for this initiative is missing from the governor’s budget request for the coming year.

2. Addressing Unsatisfactory Circumstances

Cruz’s bill, H7987, seeks to ensure that tenants are notified if inspectors deem their building to be non-compliant with building laws or if their landlord faces legal action over property standards. Cruz stressed that, under present standards, landlords are responsible for giving such alerts, which are rarely issued, leaving renters ignorant of possible safety dangers in their homes. Additionally, Mack introduced S2413, which attempts to restrict landlords from renting out units suspected of having bedbug infestations. It requires landlords to bear the costs of inspection and treatment if bedbugs are identified.

3. Framework for Tenant Unions

H7962, introduced by Rep. David Morales of Providence, proposes creating a framework for tenants to organize unions, allowing them to collectively address concerns within their buildings. Although renters could organize since 1986, Sen. Mack emphasized the lack of state regulations governing the registration procedure for these unions or how they can express concerns. Cruz believes that when renters band together to campaign for their rights and address common concerns, power dynamics will shift dramatically.

4. Right to Purchase

Upcoming legislation in both the House and the Senate proposes giving tenants the right of first refusal to buy a home at market pricing if the owners decide to sell. Additionally, tenants would be able to transfer this privilege to another institution, such as a nonprofit or public housing agency.

Sen. Mack explained the legislation’s justification, citing a tendency of major corporations and hedge funds to acquire multi-family and single-family properties, frequently outbidding working people with insufficient resources. Mack described the initiative as a way to increase the purchasing power of present Rhode Island citizens, emphasizing the necessity of empowering tenants in the real estate market.

5. Limiting Denials Based on Credit or Criminal Record

Senator Meghan Kallman of Pawtucket introduced S2438, which would limit landlords’ consideration of tenants’ credit history to the last three years in rental applications.

Furthermore, the bill requires landlords to consider only major offenses, such as murder, sexual assault, and robbery, committed within the last ten years unless extenuating circumstances exist. Landlords would be banned from rejecting tenants based on arrests or charges that have not been convicted.

6. Prohibiting Evictions Without Just Cause

Rep. Cruz’s legislation would compel landlords to demonstrate “good cause,” such as illegal behavior or property damage, before evicting tenants. This law aims to offer security for renters with month-to-month leases while also protecting them from arbitrary eviction letters.

The Tenants’ Bill of Rights symbolizes Rhode Island lawmakers’ concentrated effort to prioritize tenant safeguards while also addressing the state’s housing issue. Legislators hope that by implementing these policies, they would empower renters, promote housing stability, and ensure that all Rhode Island residents have access to secure and affordable housing.

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