Today, the Philadelphia City Council Law and Government Committee will consider two bills that would dramatically improve housing accessibility across the city. Despite the lasting economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Philadelphia’s eviction moratorium is set to expire this summer, leaving thousands of families facing eviction. To strengthen and enforce housing discrimination laws, Councilmember Kendra Brooks’ Renters’ Access Act (Bills No. 210329 and 210330), introduced on April 15, 2021, would prohibit landlords from denying potential tenants solely due to their credit score, eviction records older than 2 years, or failure to pay rent or utility bills during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Landlords increasingly use tenant screening companies to find background information on potential tenants, often turning applicants away if they detect an eviction filing. For tenants who have never been evicted despite having cases opened against them, the Renters’ Access Act would help reduce the potential of rental application rejections by giving them the opportunity to dispute information obtained from third-party screening services.
Rental fees present another significant hurdle to obtaining housing, with tenants often spending hundreds of dollars on application fees just to face continued refusal. Under the Renters’ Access Act, landlords would be required to notify potential tenants of the reason for their application rejection within two business days. Tenants would also be granted access to landlords’ screening criteria, offering a critical indication of whether they should spend the money to apply.
Councilmember Brooks’ bills offer a creative solution to Philadelphia’s housing crisis through a racial equity lens by reducing structural barriers to housing for low-income renters. With 71% of annual evictions in Philadelphia filed in communities of color, the act would provide needed support for Black and Brown communities in addition to seniors, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ people. According to Rasheedah Phillips, Managing Attorney for Housing Policy at Community Legal Services, “these communities are most likely to have lost income during the pandemic, putting them at greater risk of eviction filings, and therefore putting them at risk of homelessness and instability beyond the pandemic.”
By affording significant protection to tenants, the Renters’ Access Act is a crucial step in guaranteeing housing as a human right. To give Philly renters a fair shot at securing housing, sign this petition. For residents of Philadelphia, visit http://phlcouncil.com/council-members to find and contact your local City Councilmember and voice your support for the legislation.
Written by Shaine Stuhlmuller, Volunteer at Landlord Watchlist Project PA. The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not represent the views of Philadelphia City Councilmembers or staff.