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Council approves ordinances to strengthen renters’ rights

Friday, October 28, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

City Council approved two ordinances Thursday enshrining the right of tenants to organize and to remedy lease violations prior to eviction. 

As rents in Austin continue to rise, tenant advocates say the ordinances are increasingly necessary to help prevent eviction and to allow tenants to collectively demand better living conditions and fair treatment from landlords.

The ordinances have been under negotiation in recent weeks, as Council members have sought compromise between tenant advocates and real estate industry stakeholders. On Thursday, organizations including the Austin Apartment Association, Austin Board of Realtors, Austin Justice Coalition and BASTA, a tenant advocacy group, were able to reach a compromise on key aspects of the policies.

Stakeholders disagreed on the “right to cure” period, which gives tenants a chance to correct lease violations, including late payments, after being served a notice of proposed eviction. Tenant advocates supported a 21-day right-to-cure period, while the Austin Apartment Association opposed any right to cure.

João Paulo Connolly with the Austin Justice Coalition said that the right to cure could help prevent eviction and homelessness. 

“The most effective thing we can do long-term to address homelessness is to create solutions that will keep people stably housed for the long term. And the right to cure is one of those solutions,” he said.

The Austin Apartment Association objected to the policy on the grounds that it conflicts with the Texas Property Code. Emily Blair, the association’s executive vice president, said it could also cause some landlords to go out of business. If more renters are paying late every month, landlords may not be able to meet their own financial obligations, such as mortgages. Smaller landlords may be more affected, she said. 

Ultimately, only a seven-day right-to-cure period made it into the ordinance, which Council passed unanimously. Small landlords – those who own fewer than five rental units – are exempt from providing a right to cure.

Part of the compromise stakeholders reached also involves assessing the effects of the right-to-cure policy on both landlords and tenants after six months. At that time, stakeholders could suggest improvements to the ordinance.

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes amended the ordinance to require that landlords, upon serving a notice of proposed eviction, provide tenants a fact sheet on their rights and the resources available to them. 

The right-to-organize ordinance allows tenants to join together and advocate for better living conditions. It also allows tenants to invite tenant organizers, like those employed by BASTA, to help with organizing activities. 

Shoshana Krieger, project director at BASTA, explained that some landlords have interfered with tenant organizing by treating tenants unfairly or calling police on outside organizers for trespassing. “The current property code retaliation protections do not prevent this,” she said.

Council members voted 9-1-1 to approve the right-to-organize ordinance, with Mackenzie Kelly opposed and Kathie Tovo off the dais.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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