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With landlords in Albuquerque standing against any potential move toward rent control, one city councilor set about exploring other ways to alleviate financial pressure on low-income households.
The result is what Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn is calling the “Residential Tenant Protection Ordinance,” new legislation that targets what it deems “deceptive” practices and “unreasonable” fees. Fiebelkorn’s bill does not tackle rent prices or increases, but it would regulate fees and parts of the application process.
Her proposal comes about a month after the City Council – heeding objections from rental property owners – rejected a Fiebelkorn bill asking the New Mexico Legislature to repeal a state law that prevents cities from implementing rent control. She describes her new proposal as a logical progression of that discussion, and contends it is a relatively painless way to help Albuquerque residents living on the margins as housing costs soar.
“This is something we can do right now that wouldn’t have any potential negative impact on landlords, but it would certainly help, particularly low-income people who are trying to find a place or stay in a place,” she said.
The bill has not yet been publicly debated or gone through a council committee, but it already has raised alarm bells within the landlord ranks.
The president of the Apartment Association of New Mexico told the City Council during last week’s general public comment period that the group is “adamantly against” Fiebelkorn’s new legislation, which also includes a separate bill that would require landlords to get city permits for their rental properties. Steve Grant said the association’s members would be concerned about several components of the bills.
“Are we going to be the city that wants to continue growing in a positive direction, with new job growth, new company expansions and, yes, future housing, or are we going to be a city that is so hard to deal with that businesses and future investors decide not to deal with Albuquerque and run away from us?” Grant said during the council meeting.
Fiebelkorn’s tenant protection ordinance would stop landlords from charging tenants more than their own costs for processing applications or for any other fees they require beyond rent or a deposit. They also could not assess fees for paying rent by cash, personal check, money order or via an online portal, nor could they refuse to accept cash, checks or money orders.
In addition, the legislation bars landlords from charging a pet fee, except when the lease is under a year. Landlords could still charge a pet deposit, but Fiebelkorn noted that deposits are refundable if the landlord incurred no costs associated with the animal.
Since joining the City Council, Fiebelkorn said renters have alerted her to a range of fees she did not even know existed. She said she wants to ensure they are not merely profit-making inventions and that they are properly understood by tenants. As such, her bill would require landlords to disclose to potential applicants all application and other fees provided for in the lease agreement. Each time they impose a fee, they would have to supply documentation proving their costs.
“Having some specifics on what kind of fees can be charged and making sure they’re just the passage of actual costs to a property owner seems like a small, easy way we can provide some kind of cost stabilization for low-income people,” Fiebelkorn said.
Under her proposal, landlords also would have to disclose up front and in writing the minimum income and credit score required to qualify for their rental unit and any background information that would result in disqualification.
The bill would also dictate other elements of the application process. For example, landlords could process only 10 applications for a single unit and could not move on to another batch unless none of the first 10 qualifies. Landlords would have to refund application fees if they never actually processed a potential tenant’s paperwork before renting the unit to someone else or if they reject an application without providing a written reason.
Fiebelkorn said rental payment – not fees – should be landlords’ profit vehicle. She acknowledged that they may simply raise rent prices if they lose other revenue, but that her proposal should at least provide more transparency.
“There’s some information up front, so somebody can decide if this is a place they can afford or not,” she said.