Tenant Rights bill, Affordable Housing discussed at public hearing Tuesday

Legislative hearing on housing bills
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 7:31 PM EST
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(WFSB) - Tenants rights and affordable housing were front and center at the State Legislature Tuesday, and speakers were passionate.

There were several bills on the table at Tuesday’s public hearing, including one that would get rid of application fees in certain cases and expand eviction protections.

But what got the most attention, was the fight over affordable housing and how much municipalities need to build.

Mareika Philips says growing up in a family with housing stability allowed her to be the advocate she is today, but others don’t have that luxury.

“Not having stability means not having resources and it becomes a cycle,” says Mareika Philips of New Haven Rising.

That’s why she spoke in support of several bills that could help protect tenants.

“Ending winter evictions, limiting rental application fees would enable us to stabilize our communities and hold landlords accountable for the living conditions they provide,” says Philips.

The bills would limit when a tenant can be charged a screening fee and give tenants the ability to conduct a walk through inspection of any unit before moving in.

They would also create an eviction moratorium in the winter, and get rid of lapse of time evictions, which are given when a tenant’s lease is up and the landlord does not want to renew.

Paul Januszewski is a landlord in the Greater Enfield area.

He spoke against all of the above, especially getting rid of lapse of time evictions.

“This forces landlords to hold on to a lease forever and eliminates the last means to vacate a nuisance tenant,” says Januszewski. “With these provisions, they don’t improve the screening process and they don’t allow for housing improvements.”

The most heated exchanges surrounded a “fair share” bill. It would allow the state to determine how much each municipality is required to build in affordable housing.

“It would generate an estimate of the need for affordable housing by regions then allocate the regional need to towns in a tailored way,” says Erin Boggs, Executive Director of Open Communities Alliance. “Fair Share is a way to empower towns to plan and zone for all of the affordable and market rate units we need. Fair share would implement a new statewide housing policy framework based on an effective process in New Jersey.”

Those who oppose say the bill isn’t realistic about how much municipalities can build.

“Municipalities can be sued and forced to build housing at the expense of their taxpayers most of whom are already housing burdened,” says Frank Defelice, of the Lower CT River Valley Council of Government.

Many people who signed up to speak were originally told there would be a rent cap discussion, but the committee chair said they wanted to talk about other portions of the bill instead. There was a 15 hour hearing last week on rent stabilization.

Later in the night, those who signed up to testify were able to begin the rent stabilization discussion again.

A different committee heard bills that would punish non-compliant landlords and expand fair rent commissions. We will have more of that information on our website.

Here were some of the Housing bills being discussed Tuesday:

Insurance and Real Estate Committee:

HB 6784 - an Act Concerning Noncompliant Landlords.

Purpose: to establish a process for the appointment of private receiverships to oversee rental housing property developments where landlords or owners fail to comply with state and local health and fire codes.

Page 1: “Rental housing property development” means any privately owned multi-family dwelling in this state consisting of not less than five hundred units.

Page 2: Upon receipt of not less than 12 claimed violations in any one calendar year submitted by tenants in the same rental housing property development .. the Attorney General may submit an application for a private receivership ...

The receiver would then apply rents to fix the violations.

SB 1113 - an Act Concerning Fair Rent Commissions.

Purpose: to require towns, cities or boroughs with a population of at least 5,000 to create fair rent commissions on or before July 1, 2024.

Housing Committee:

HB 6780 - An Act Concerning Tenants’ Rights.

Purpose: to permit tenants to conduct a walk-through inspection of a dwelling unit before moving in. Limit fees a landlord may charge in connection with tenant screenings and require landlords to provide written notice to certain protected tenants of their legal rights regarding evictions.

Not later than December 1, 2023, the commissioner of housing shall prepare a standardized preoccupancy walk-through checklist ...

A landlord may charge a fee for a tenant screening report concerning a prospective tenant if the fee for such a tenant screening report is not more than the actual cost paid by the landlord for such report.

Landlords must waive the fee if prospective tenants show a screening report that was done within 30 days.

A landlord may not collect a tenant screening report fee from a prospective tenant until the landlord provides the prospective tenant with a copy of the tenant screening report and an invoice.

Page 2: cannot collect any part of the security deposit for stuff noted in the preoccupancy walk-through checklist.

HB 6781 - An Act addressing housing affordability for residents in the state.

Purpose: To improve the access to adequate housing for all residents of the state.

Make rules relating to the maintenance of safe and sanitary housing and prescribe civil penalties for the violation of such rules not to exceed $2,000 dollars per violation ...

Section 11: It shall be a discriminatory practice in violation of this section for a housing provider to refuse to rent after making a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny a dwelling unit or deny occupancy in a dwelling unit, to any person based on such person’s prior eviction, except for an eviction during the 5 years preceding the rental application or status as a party to any summary process action that did not result in an eviction.

Effective October 1, 2023, the Commissioner of Housing .. shall establish a program to encourage and recruit owners of rental real property to accept from prospective tenants any federal Housing Choice Voucher, rental assistance program certificate, or payment from any other program administered by the state that provides rental payment subsidies for residential dwellings.

HB 6633 - An Act concerning a needs assessment and fair share plans for municipalities to increase affordable housing.

Purpose: to require an assessment of the state-wide need for affordable housing and an allocation of such need to planning regions and municipalities, require the creation of fair share plans for each municipality, establish penalties for municipalities that fail to submit fair share plans.

HB 4072: An act concerning Connecticut’s present and future housing needs: RENT STABILIZATION

Would cap annual rent increases to 4% plus consumer price index.