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A National Tenants Bill of Rights could equip the nation’s 114 million renters — among them affordable senior housing residents — with a new tool against housing instability, harassment, eviction and homelessness.

The proposal from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the National Housing Law Project and the Tenant Union Federation is the result of input from tenant leaders, legal aid experts and advocates nationwide. Calling the document a “practical policy agenda,” the authors noted that it was designed to shape action at the federal level and provide a minimum of basic protections for tenants. 

The bill of rights sets out seven so-called essential rights that would establish a baseline of protections in the rental housing market — rights to a fair application, fair lease, freedom from discrimination and harassment, a safe home, reasonable rents, safeguards against eviction, and the ability to organize.

The typical tenant, according to the document, spends 30% of his or her income on rent. And rents have increased almost 30% since before the pandemic. 

“Faced with threats of eviction and homelessness, unlivable living conditions and few avenues for recourse, tenants endure egregious rent increases and landlord harassment, with few options for resource against their landlords,” according to the authors, who noted these issues are amplified among older and disabled tenants whose rental housing options are limited.

LeadingAge Senior Vice president of Policy Linda Couch said the association supports residents rights, including those of the 21% of older adults who rent their homes.

“We recognize that older adults’ housing cost burdens have hit an all-time high, and policies that support housing affordability, quality and stability in this country are essential,” Couch told McKnight’s Senior Living. 

LeadingAge said the National Tenants Bill of Rights sets out many rights and expectations that already exist for older adults served by federally subsidized housing programs, such as project-based Section 8 housing, Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly and public housing.

“LeadingAge supports further protections for older adults in federally assisted housing, as demonstrated by our recent comments on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) criminal background screening proposed rule,” Couch said. “In addition, most renters in the US do not have HUD or other federal programs to ensure the rights and responsibilities of both tenants and owners — tenants’ housing stability and quality may suffer for it.”

The groups introducing the bill of rights said that it complements the Biden administration’s efforts to improve housing affordability and supply.

“By strengthening and enforcing robust federal tenant protections through a National Tenants Bill of Rights — alongside sustained investments to address housing affordability and housing supply — policymakers can help shift the balance of power between tenants and landlords, redress long-standing racial and social inequities, and achieve housing justice,” the document concluded.

The groups are encouraging advocates, organizations and policymakers to endorse its National Tenants Bill of Rights.