Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Law and Government voted to advance the Renters’ Access Act, introduced by Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large). The legislation would increase transparency in the rental screening process and increase renters’ ability to access housing by regulating the criteria that landlords use when evaluating tenants and giving renters the ability to correct or clarify application information.
Philadelphians have faced unprecedented financial losses during the COVID-19 pandemic and these losses have disproportionately impacted working class communities of color. The bills address this structural imbalance by creating viable pathways for families to secure rental housing and achieve financial stability.
The Renters’ Access Act comprises two bills that work together to curb displacement, homelessness, and discrimination.
The first bill (No. 210329)would increase transparency by requiring landlords to provide:
- uniform, written rental screening criteria to prospective tenants; and
- when an application for rental is denied, a written statement of reasons for that denial, including any third-party reports used in making the rental decision.
These requirements would be enforced by the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission.
The second bill (No. 210330) would regulate tenant screening practices and root out out biases by:
- prohibiting blanket exclusions of people with eviction records, or based solely on a credit score;
- prohibiting a landlord from denying a rental application based on (1) failure to pay rent or utility bills during the COVID-19 emergency period, and (2) certain kinds of eviction records; and
- providing prospective tenants whose rental applications are denied the opportunity to dispute incorrect information or provide evidence of mitigating circumstances.
During the pandemic in Philadelphia, 49% of eviction filings occurred in majority-Black communities and 78% of eviction filings occurred in communities of color. The consequences of eviction records go far beyond the loss of shelter, and can lead to the loss of housing subsidies, ineligibility for public housing and being essentially barred from safe, affordable, and habitable private housing. Eviction filings have an especially disparate impact on Black women and their families, forcing many into unsafe, toxic, or illegal living arrangements and inciting dangerous cycles of generational poverty and instability.
“The pandemic has magnified the housing crisis in Philadelphia and increased the structural barriers that renters face in securing affordable housing,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks. “As a renter myself, I know how difficult and ambiguous the rental application process can be. And this is especially a problem for Black women, who receive the majority of eviction filings in the city. This legislation gives communities of color, who have been discriminated against in Philadelphia’s housing system for generations, a fair shot at securing rental housing.”
The committee hearing featured testimony from housing policy experts, legal advocates, low-income renters, small landlords, and union members.
“Renters in Philadelphia really need the Renters Access Act,” said Cheryl Lynn Heard Thomas Harmon, a renter currently seeking housing. “I am desperate to find a place and I cannot understand why I am being denied when I have steady funds and a modest amount of savings. These bills will help make it so that myself and other Philadelphians with fixed incomes are able to find a place and not feel like we will automatically be denied access to affordable housing without a fair shot. We need to know our rental applications are being evaluated based on the person, and not just what a credit screening company decides.”
“The pandemic has significantly exacerbated difficulties facing Black communities and other communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ people. These populations are most likely to have lost income during the pandemic, putting them at risk of eviction filings, and therefore putting them at risk of homelessness and instability beyond the pandemic,” said Rasheedah Phillips, Managing Attorney of Housing Policy at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. “ This legislation is vital to ensuring that tenants are treated fairly and has CLS’s full support.”
“Over the past few years, SeniorLAW Center has represented a number of clients who should never have had an eviction case filed against them, or who have won at trial,” said Daniel Hyman, Tenants’ Rights Attorney at SeniorLAW Center. “These seniors now have a permanent, public record showing that they have had a dispute with their landlord, and will be screened out of other housing opportunities through no fault of their own. Other seniors are afraid to complain about bad landlords who refuse to make repairs because they are afraid of an eviction filing that will follow them for life. We should make it easier, not harder for our older population to find housing.”
“There is a time and place for legal protections for landlords, but the rental industry is already stacked in favor of landlords,” said Brandon Alcorn, a Philadelphia landlord. “Protections for landlords like myself and my partner need to be balanced by protections for the tenants who live in our buildings and the Renters’ Access Act is the next step towards doing that. Eviction records and credit reports are fundamentally flawed tools for screening tenants. In the most charitable interpretation, they are a snapshot of a moment in time in someone’s life – oftentimes a very difficult moment that does not merit excluding someone from future housing opportunities. Even worse, we know these tools are systematically denying housing opportunities to people of color and other marginalized communities.”
The legislation was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Bobby Henon (6th District), Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), Helen Gym (At-Large), and Isaiah Thomas (At-Large).
“Philadelphia has led the nation in working to end evictions in our city,” said Councilmember Helen Gym. “But past eviction records still devastate thousands of tenants, even when those eviction filings are dismissed in court. Having a filing on your record makes it more difficult to find safe and affordable housing, and hits Black women and families the hardest. That’s why I am proud to co-sponsor and support Councilmember Brooks’ bill to provide common sense protections for families seeking rental housing.”
“As Philadelphians put the pieces of their lives back together after the pandemic, the ability to secure stable rental housing is key to recovery,” said Councilmember Bobby Henon (6th District). “The Renters’ Access Act is particularly important for workers across the city, who have faced unprecedented losses over the past year. Given that many workers are required to live in the city as a condition of their employment, providing them with a fair shot at securing affordable housing is essential for our city’s economic recovery. I am proud to co-sponsor this important legislation that will ensure my constituents can live, work, and thrive in Philadelphia for years to come.”