This week, more than 200 supporters of a KC Tenants Bill of Rights gathered at the Committee on Housing Policy meeting and after almost three hours of deliberation, both parts of the Tenants Bill of Rights package — a resolution and an ordinance — were passed and recommended for a vote by the full city council. The city council is expected to hear the package on Dec. 12.

Ahead of that meeting, here’s a deeper look at some of the items covered in the Bill of Rights. In addition to the Bill of Rights, the second part of the package amends and existing city resolution to include a number of additional benefits for tenants including the creation of an office to enforce the rights included in the Bill of Rights. Because of space limitations we won’t be able to explore further that part of the package.

Tenants Bill of Rights

Some of the basics in the Bill of Rights seem so basic that you wonder why they need to be included. However, the fact that they are included indicates the gravity of the situation many tenants are experiencing.

For starters the “right” to safe and accessible housing establishes the need for houses to have minimum health and safety standards of basic utilities, ventilation and heating, safety from fire and safe and sanitary maintenance.

Rental property units must also maintain working amenities including but not limited to water heaters, heaters, water and sewer lines, plumbing and electrical fixtures, lighted common halls and stairways and, if provided, cooking equipment. While landlords must comply with Federal anti-discrimination and Fair Housing Laws, the Bill of Rights also makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability and makes it illegal to retaliate against a tenant for complaining regarding a violation of city code.

The Bill of Rights limits landlords entry into a home without notice, and the ordinance establishes the parameters for a 24-hour advance notice of entry.

A problem with landlords unfairly holding security deposits is also addressed. The Bill says if a landlord does unlawful withhold all or any portion of a security deposit, the tenant may recover twice the amount wrongfully withheld.

The Bill of Rights also give tenants the right to organize and states a landlord cannot retaliate against the organizing efforts by increasing rent, decreasing services, or threatening eviction.

It would also bar landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their lawful source of income, including federal vouchers. Landlords would also be barred from refusing to negotiate with prospective tenants solely on the basis of arrest and conviction history or rental history, including prior evictions. This doesn’t make the landlord rent to any of these individuals, but it makes them at least consider these individuals for occupancy instead of summarily disallowing them.

Finally, if there is a condition in the property that “detrimentally” affects the tenant’s ability to inhabit the property, including sanitation, security, or municipal housing or building code violations, and if they are not caused by the tenant, the tenant can make the repair and deduct the repair costs from their rent. To be able to do this, the tenant must have lived in the rental property for six consecutive months and paid all rent and charges without any lease or house rule violations, and the landlord must have failed to correct or provide a written statement disputing the necessity of the repair within 14 days.

The amount deducted can be no more than a month’s rent, but up to either $300 or half the rent, whichever is more. The tenant must also submit an itemized statement with receipts to the landlord and repair the condition.

In addition, the Bill of Rights includes a list of rights which they feel should be made law on a federal, state and local level. Obviously, the Bill of Rights has no bearing on the state or federal government, but some of the items listed are proposed as part of the ordinance the city council is asked to adopt in support of the stated Bill of Rights. In other words, the Bill of Rights doesn’t have much power, but an by passing an ordinance, a right becomes law.

Here are some of the items in the Bill of Rights included in the ordinance:

Tenants have the rights to access estimates of utility costs.

Tenants have the right to housing that can be heated to a habitable temperature.

Tenants have the right to relocation assistance from the city in the event of a forced move, like a displacement on the basis of uninhabitable conditions

Tenants have the freedom to accessible knowledge and education of their rights as renters. A Tenant Bill of Rights document must be available to tenants at the start of tenancy.

To fully guarantee these rights and protection, a city division of housing and community development will be created and funded. The department will serve as a permanent voice for residents within the city.

As always, stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted.

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Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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