SOKY members work toward statewide renters’ rights bill

KFTC Southern Kentucky chapter members used the 2015 General Assembly to give their local work on renters’ rights a statewide platform.

The Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URLTA) is a set of codified best practices to clarify the terms of agreements between tenants and landlords.

It simply clarifies and standardizes the terms of a lease and protects renters from retaliatory evictions for reporting housing that is not up to code.

Based on best practices from the rental industry, URLTA is called a “win-win” for renters and landlords. Several states have adopted URLTA statewide. Kentucky’s state law, however, only allows individual communities to opt in to URLTA; it falls short of adopting it statewide.

A handful of Kentucky communities have adopted URLTA – Lexington, Louisville, some Northern Kentucky communities and a few other communities – but landlords and tenants in 116 counties are without the protections and stability provided by URLTA.

The Southern Kentucky Chapter has been working to adopt URLTA in Barren and Warren counties and saw an opportunity to share their work with the rest of the state in the form of a statewide URLTA bill.

They worked with Barren County Rep. Johnny Bell and Rep. Mary Lou Marzian to develop and introduce the bill in the House.

KFTC members and allies from the WKU Student Coalition for Renters’ Rights, the Homeless and Housing Coalition, and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center raised awareness about HB 368 leading up to and throughout the session.

Together, members met with several members of House leadership and more than 20 legislators who represent unprotected renters. For a brand new bill, this was a good start and was compounded by the work of KFTC’s housing allies as well.

Jasmine Routin, of the WKU Student Coalition for Renters’ Rights and a SOKY KFTC member, has worked on URLTA locally and statewide. In a recent lobbying meeting to build legislative allies, Routin offered a statement about what it is like to live in a non-URLTA community. This is an excerpt:

As a full-time student at Western Kentucky University working two part-time jobs, I need a secure, stable home. A group of friends and I rented a house. We requested a written lease agreement that outlined our responsibilities and the landlord’s responsibilities. For instance, the landlord was to continue paying the trash bill out of the rent money, while we were to cut the grass. We agreed on a 12-month lease. After a few months, the landlord evicted us. The letter gave no reason for the eviction, but stated that we needed to be moved out before the first of the month because the landlord’s daughter would be moving in. We had a lease, but the landlord informed me that it wasn’t valid since it hadn’t been notarized. That’s not true, but I believed him and didn’t feel like I had the tools or resources to fight it. We packed up our belongings and left.

My friends simply moved back in with their parents. I did not have that option. The eviction left me homeless. I lived out of my car and bounced around from friend to friend. Without my security deposit, I did not have the resources to move into a different place. Living out of my car and bouncing from place to place, I was spending money on fast food and other necessities quicker than I was able to make money. I ended up living in my car for about two months, in the dead of winter, and I wasn’t able to afford another place for well over a year.

Kentuckians need protections of URLTA. The property I was paying money to live in was not maintained. The place was infested with roaches and mold, and I felt unsafe because of the countless times I came home to random people standing in my apartment. People ask, “Why didn’t you just leave?” with the assumption that I had the resources. Many of us who are renting cannot afford to pick up and move. Kentucky citizens and landlords will benefit from URLTA, and that is why I hope passing a bill for URLTA to be instated will be taken very seriously.

The lack of renter protections in 116 counties creates unnecessary and unjust instability for the families and individuals who are impacted.

The lack of clarity and uniformity also clog up our courts; every lease sets out its unique terms, questions, and ambiguities. KFTC members will continue to build support for the bill until it is passed so that every Kentucky renter has a basic set of protections they can count on.

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