There’s got to be a middle ground — something between protecting tenants from unfair rents and callous landlords and creating an overly burdensome system that discourages new housing development.
Caught in the tug of war is the Albuquerque City Council, as renters reckon with rental spikes and the city reckons with a rental shortage of about 13,000 units.
An annual State of the Nation’s Housing report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies found Albuquerque’s rents were increasing at a rate of 18% year over year, well above the national average of 12%.
“Rent is going crazy. It’s causing people to become unhoused,” said Albuquerque City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, who has unsuccessfully offered two tenant protection bills in recent months.
One of Fiebelkorn’s proposals, the creation of a landlord registry, would have been overly burdensome. It would have required the city to track the number, availability and cost of apartments and other residential rentals in Albuquerque, and landlords to provide 14 lines of information for each unit, with annual updates.
The City Council was right to quash the Residential Rental Database Ordinance.
Fiebelkorn’s other proposal would have merely limited fees and added transparency to leases and rental agreements. Landlords would have been required to disclose upfront to potential applicants some of their screening standards, and how much they charge in pet, parking, pest control and other fees.
Fiebelkorn’s Residential Tenant Protection Ordinance also would have limited application fees to $150 and required landlords to issue refunds in cases where they accepted an application fee from a potential client, but never actually processed the application for various reasons, such as when someone else rented the unit.
That proposal could have used some tweaking based on landlord complaints, but there was plenty to salvage that would have provided needed transparency for renters. However, the City Council rejected it by a 4-5 vote at its March 6 meeting.
Meanwhile, working families and retirees are being squeezed out of the Albuquerque rental market post-pandemic.
Aaron Barreras told the Journal the rent had been stable at his Northeast Albuquerque apartment for 10 years, increasing by only $100. Granted, it sounds like he had a very sweet deal, paying only $789 a month for his two-bedroom townhome. But a 28% increase to $1,010, which occurred after an out-of-state real estate investment company bought Spain Townhomes last summer, was a hard hit and he is looking for a new place.
A number of factors are causing rental costs to skyrocket at many of Albuquerque’s 8,000 multifamily rental properties: an end to a moratorium on evictions imposed during the pandemic; below-market rental rates pre-pandemic; a shortage of rental units; increased costs for labor and materials; a growing number of real estate investors entering the rental market, with many raising rents as they promise to upgrade properties; and the so-called FAANG effect, the relocation of employees of major tech companies to the Albuquerque area.
The cumulative effect has sprouted a rent control movement, which state lawmakers wisely nixed in the past legislative session because of its potentially chilling effect on housing development. But as it stands, there’s little legal recourse in New Mexico for tenants because of the lack of tenant protection laws.
While there is no doubt Albuquerque is in a housing crisis, rent control is not the way to go. More inventory, competition, tenant-protection laws and transparency are the answers.
The City Council should make it a priority to find that middle ground of better protecting renters while encouraging investments in multifamily housing.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.