Thursday, July 12, 2007

We need Renters' Bill of Rights

By Faith Chatham - July 11, 2007
Tax-assisted or tax abated housing has been one of the more common public private partnerships for many decades. The abuses in this system are legendary. Despite many Federal and state regulations for rent subsidy vouchers, there appears to be little transparency to alert potential renters to the practices of apartment owners before they move in. Citizens on fixed incomes frequently discover that apartment management companies and owners are deliquent in paying for vital services and refuse to keep the units up to code. These discoveries are usually made after the resident has depleted limited resources in moving into a complex.

There is no requirement that apartment owners disclose to potential tenants:
1. Failures within the last year to correct code violations before the inspector has returned for a reinspection.
2. Crime in the complex.
3. Who owns the complex.

State law requires that nursing homes post complaints against their establishment and nursing home code violations, (and their resolution) in a public place and make them available to all potential new residents VEFORE the paperwork is signed for a resident to move into the home. A similar law is needed for apartment complexes.

Apartment investors frequently hide behind management companies. It is difficult to know who actually owns an apartment complex.

For decades it has been acknowledged that many investors get tax abatements and/or tax exempt bonds to construct low income or senior/handicapped housing and switch the housing to regular housing as soon as the bonds are paid off. The tax payers investment in private public partnerships for subsidized housing frequently yields greater return to the investor than to the taxpayer or targeted group needing housing assistance.

The news media occasionaly covers stories of tenants having their electricity, garbage pickup or water turned off although they have paid their rent. Tenants have a difficult time learning of financial difficulties of landlords until it has escalated into a crisis. When the garbage trucks had not emptied the dumpster for over a week at my complex, I called the disposal company and was told that unless I was the owner or authorized representative of the owner they would not tell me if the owners had paid their bill. Residents who have submetered electricity have similar difficulties learning if the complex has paid the electric utility bill.

Apartment complexes run financial background checks on tenants before they lease them apartments. Tenants have difficulty learning who owns the majority of the corporations which own their complexes. Without knowing who owns the complex, tenants can move from one complex trying to escape bad management and move into another one with similar problems because they have the same owners.

Slum lords who abuse the system hide behind holding companies, investment companies and hired management companies and escape the scrunity of their neighbors who are bothered by the nusiance of crime-ridden apartment complexes which have numerous sanitation and safety code violations. Some even run for political office or get appointed to city boards and commissions.

We need stiffer fines for landlords who do not correct code violations by the time the inspectors return for the reinspection. We need a tenants Bill of Rights which requires apartment complexes to disclose to ever prospective tenant before they sign a lease:
1. The code violations which were not corrected by the next reinspection for the past 12 months
2. The number of reported crimes and the types of crimes
3. Names, addresses and contact information for all investors who own at least 30% of the complex.
All tenants should be provided a release from the complex instructing trash collection and utility companies to reveal to the tenant the status of payment for services by the complex. Tenants who have submetered electricity, water and/or gas service should be allowed to learn the status of payment by the complex for those services.
4. All tenants should be allowed to form tenants associations.
5. Complexes should be fined if they advertise amenenties which they do not support or maintain. If they advertise swimming pools or gyms, but do not maintain them and allow tenants to use them, they should be penalized.

I think that a process similar to that

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