Biden’s Renters Bill of Rights calls for ‘clear and fair leases’ but how will this be enforced?


White House says home leases shouldn't include clauses that unfairly favor landlords. Now Congress, USDA, CFPB, FTC, and other regulators will work on making this into law.


The good news for renters is that 1 of the 5 provisions in the White House’s new Renters Bill of Rights calls for “clear and fair leases.” But a post from Ballard Spahr, a law firm active in housing, shows how enforcing this is complicated.

The White House Renters Bill of Rights says:

Leases should not include mandatory arbitration clauses, unauthorized terms, hidden or illegal fees, false representations, or other unfair or deceptive practices. The lease terms should be written in simple and clear language accessible to the renter, and the leasing process should ensure tenants understand the terms of the lease through a plain-language briefing.

Ballard Spahr notes how America’s primary consumer finance regulator, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), tried and failed in 2017 to eliminate lease arbitration clauses that favor landlords by attempting to bar tenants from suing landlords for disputes.

They also note how the White House’s proposed rental protections, for now, only mentions modeling fairer leases after USDA’s participation in housing. Here’s what the Renters Bill of Rights says:

USDA will institute a broad set of actions that will advance clear leases and ensure tenants can seek compliance with lease terms without facing retaliation across its portfolio of 400,000 units of multifamily rental housing. Specifically, USDA is developing a clear and fair lease that is similar to the model lease used in HUD Section 8 properties.

This new, fairer lease initiative will ostensibly take cues from HUD’s renter protection provisions, but Ballard Spahr describes the thicket of government regulators that bump into each other when trying to implement this stuff.

For example, it’s not clear whether whether Congress can authorize USDA or any other Federal agency to prohibit landlord use of harsh arbitration agreements.

Don’t be discouraged by this. It’s still very early days for the Renters Bill of Rights, and it takes time to formalize fair leases. It’s a critical initiative from the executive branch, and smart legislative, judicial, and regulatory folks will hopefully maintain this as a priority as we move to and through the next election cycle.

As long as it remains a priority, it’ll result in better tenants’ rights as it works it’s way through Washington and as individual tenant cases work their way through the courts.

Check It Out:

White House issues Blueprint for Renters Bill of Rights: Will the CFPB and FTC stay in their lanes?



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