The pandemic was supposed to be an opportunity for governments to reevaluate housing and renter protections as millions were put out of work, putting their ability to pay rent at risk.
Almost two years in, Shamaeaka Shaw, is still seeing the tenants she helps as the creator of the Broken Hearted Homes Renters Association get evicted regularly as eviction prevention assistance funds take too long to get to landlords. And no permanent changes have been made to tenants rights on the state level.
But, Rep. Nima Kulkarni has some ideas.
The Louisville lawmaker has introduced three bills that would enhance tenant protections, tackling the long-lasting impacts of evictions on tenants and the fate of tenant belongings. One would accomplish a long-held goal by some housing advocates to pass the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act statewide.
Shaw has her issues with the Act, also called URLTA, but she likes the sound of Kulkarni’s other proposals, as well as the fact that Kulkarni’s bill would adopt a modernized version of URLTA.
“I like that somebody’s finally deciding to stand up and say enough is enough,” she said. “You know, there’s a lot of people that’s been out here screaming and wishing and hoping and waiting for somebody to stand up in office like I’m standing with the people.”
Kulkarni’s bill, HB 159, would automatically expunge eviction judgments from tenants’ records after one year. It would also seal away eviction filings from the public if they’re dismissed. (Currently, she said, they stay on tenants’ records and can hurt their chances for future housing.)
HB 160, another of Kulkarni’s bills, would require landlords to keep tenants’ possessions for 21 days after an eviction has been executed.
HB 152, would implement a revised URLTA, or RULRTA, across the state, establishing consistent rules for tenants and landlords, including a requirement that homes be habitable. Currently, Kentucky has no statewide rules for landlords and tenants, letting local governments adopt their own laws.
So far, none of the bills have been assigned to a committee.
While passing URLTA has been the main focus for some Kentucky housing advocates over the years, others think that it doesn’t go far enough. When LEO spoke with a grassroots tenants rights advocate last year, they told LEO that when URLTA was crafted, tenants weren’t the main voice at the table, and the Act reflects that.
Shaw has experience working within URLTA, because Jefferson County is one of the governments in Kentucky that has adopted it. She believes it focuses too much on protecting landlords.
Kulkarni’s bill would adopt a revised version of URLTA created in 2015, which adds additional protections for domestic violence victims, adopts new standards that landlords have to meet for their property to be considered habitable and would expand the swath of things that count as a retaliatory act by a landlord — for example, if they refused to renew the lease because a tenant had complained to a governmental agency about their housing.
Kulkarni said that if anyone has concerns about her bills, she is willing to hear from them.
“We don’t want to make it any more difficult for tenants,” she said.
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