Petition seeks tenants’ bill of rights in Lexington
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Housing is a human right. It is time for Urban County Council to act like it.
In May 2022, Lexington tenants saw rents inflate by more than any of the country’s largest 100 cities. Year over year, rents shot up 17.9%. Nationally, rent inflation is worse than it’s been since 1991. From August 2021 until February 2022, KY Tenants had conversations with 1,500 tenants in Lexington. 67.5% of the people we talked to said that housing is unaffordable for most people in their communities. When we asked about the solutions needed to face this crisis, tenants recommended legal support for tenants, policies to help tenants struggling with the high costs of housing, and policies that hold landlords accountable when they don’t take good care of tenant’s homes.
Lexington needs a Tenants’ Bill of Rights. Sign the petition to support Urban County Council passing policies to address the housing crisis, including:
- Eviction Prevention: An eviction diversion program with universal right to counsel and permanent rental assistance
- Antidiscrimination: A ban on discrimination based on source of income, criminal history, credit score, eviction history, and immigration status
- Representation: Guaranteed seats for tenants on city boards and commissions making decisions about housing
- Accountability: A mandatory landlord registry to increase transparency and hold landlords accountable to the law
Urban County Council should pass an eviction diversion program including universal right to counsel in eviction court and a permanent rental assistance program. Since 2020, thousands of evictions have been prevented in Lexington thanks to a variety of eviction prevention policies: for example, a federally-funded rental assistance program; and delays in cases for two weeks to allow tenants to resolve issues, seek legal representation, and apply for rental assistance. However, these policies and programs are short-term. They were implemented because of the pandemic, and some have already expired. Others will expire in the coming months. The LFUCG Office of Homelessness Prevention & Intervention’s 5-year plan includes a recommendation for an eviction diversion & mediation program. We need an eviction diversion program that includes universal right to counsel in eviction court and a permanent rental assistance program.
Universal right to counsel in eviction court would ensure that every tenant facing eviction in Lexington has a lawyer representing them. According to a 2017 report by Lexington Fair Housing Council, “tenants are represented in and win just 1% (or less) of all eviction cases.” Meanwhile, nationally, over 90% of landlords are represented in eviction court. Right to counsel has been enacted in 15 cities and 3 states; Louisville passed a limited right to counsel in April 2021.
According to the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, which has reviewed multiple cost-benefit analyses of right to counsel, “Every report has found that cities and states will save far more than they spend to provide such a right, due to avoided costs around shelters, health care, foster care, and other social safety net services.” According to the same source, “a right to counsel leads to more than 90% of tenants avoiding disruptive displacement.”
According to eviction data from Fayette County District Court compiled by Kentucky Equal Justice Center eviction outreach worker Emma Anderson, there were 322 evictions filed in Lexington in December 2021. Of those, the vast majority–92%, or 295 cases–were for failure to pay rent. Of those, most were for just one month’s rent; very few were for large sums. A fully-funded, permanent rental assistance program can save the homes of thousands of people every year in Lexington. So can universal right to counsel.
Urban County Council should pass a ban on discrimination based on source of income, criminal history, credit score, eviction history, and immigration status. A common cause of homelessness is landlords refusing to accept applications from people using Section 8 or homelessness assistance programs, or people with criminal histories, low credit scores, eviction histories, or no social security number. Often, these tenants have the money to pay the rent, but they cannot find a place that will accept their application. Louisville passed an antidiscrimination ordinance in December 2020.
Urban County Council should provide guaranteed seats for directly impacted tenants on the Affordable Housing Governing Board, Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, Planning Commission, Homelessness Prevention & Intervention Board, Racial Justice & Equality Commission, and Vacant Property Review Commission. Currently, these boards have few or no renters on them. For example, not a single resident of a Housing Authority property or voucher holder is on the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. But the people closest to the problems are closest to the solutions: it is tenants who know best what problems tenants need solved. Tenants ought to have a voice in making policies that affect our lives.
Urban County Council should create a mandatory landlord registry. In the tenant listening project, KY Tenants found that tenants listed “poor maintenance” as one of the largest problems with housing. When we asked tenants, “Who is to blame for the housing crisis?,” “greedy landlords” was the second-most common response. We also asked tenanst to imagine solutions to the housing crisis. Two of the top 4 solutions were to “hold landlords legally accountable” and “improve maintenance/ housing quality.” Tenants in Lexington would benefit from stronger landlord accountability and oversight from the city government. One big step to making that a reality would be creating a landlord registry.
Lexington’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan recommended that Lexington create a landlord registry. EQUITY POLICY #5 in the Comprehensive plan recommends, “A rental property registration program to proactively address substandard housing conditions would help alleviate the current culture where residents are wary of contacting Code Enforcement to report violations for fear that they may lose the roof over their head. Louisville, Covington, and Erlanger have all taken this proactive approach to this serious issue.” A landlord registry would allow the city to more accurately track who owns what properties and create opportunities to better enforce tenant protections in the future. Potential features of the registry could include making eviction data, complaints, and code enforcement violations for each landlord publicly available, to better inform renters of the practices of their current and potential landlords.
Tenants cannot afford the rent. We are having to live in homes that our landlords will not take care of. We need a Tenants’ Bill of Rights to protect us.
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