Mar 14, 2023 - News

City housing leaders want fee transparency, eviction protections

Illustration of a ring of many keys and a man on a balanced scale of justice.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Atlanta renters need more rights to use their voice in eviction courts, stay in increasingly hard-to-find affordable housing and hold accountable investors who use unfair or predatory leasing and property management practices, according to the Atlanta Housing Commission.

What's happening: The city advisory board that includes tenants, affordable housing wonks, developers, and city officials is crafting policy recommendations that could balance a power structure that today favors property owners.

  • Unlike many past proposals, these policy ideas aim to work within existing state law and won't require OK from the landlord-friendly General Assembly, allowing policymakers to focus more on what's legally permissible than politically possible.

Why it matters: Renters make up more than half of Atlanta's residents and work in education, medical, hospitality, public safety and other important jobs. The lack of affordable housing creates obstacles for people to escape poverty, pursue education and raise a family.

  • Georgia has one of the fastest eviction processes in the U.S., according to the Housing Justice League.

Catch up quick: Advocates like the Housing Justice League have urged city leaders to craft new rules and address problems that have gone past the point of crisis

Details: Several of the proposed policies call for a city-funded legal clinic or tenant advocate program that could divert eviction cases, mediate landlord-tenant disputes, and better educate renters about their rights and landlords about their responsibilities.

  • By one estimate, landlords have legal representation more than 90% of the time in court, said Andy Schneggenburger, an affordable housing expert who chairs the commission, at today's meeting. For renters, that figure is more like 10%.

Another would require landlords to be transparent about fees — before they process an application with non-refundable fees — that are often buried in leases, like electricity in common areas, pest control and garbage collection.

  • "Once [prospective renters] get approved, they find out that actually $1,200 isn't the real price of renting," Lindsey Siegel, Atlanta Legal Aid's director of housing advocacy, said at the meeting. "It's actually $1,400 because of all the amenities. By the time they get to the lease, they've already paid a bunch so they feel stuck."

Of note: The eight policies are undergoing tweaks and have not been adopted yet by the commission. They will require action by the mayor and Atlanta City Council to take effect.

State of play: Legislation capping the rental deposit a landlord could charge, prohibiting retaliation against tenants and requiring ongoing maintenance is awaiting a vote in the state Senate.

What's next: Commission members are fine-tuning and condensing some of the proposals for a third discussion at next month's meeting.


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