U.S. lobbyists raise rental housing issues

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Rental housing issues figure prominently among the Institute of Real Estate Management’s (IREM) U.S. public policy priorities for 2016. Although prefaced with an acknowledgement that government action is not expected this year, bolstering private landlords’ role in federally assisted housing programs for low-income tenants tops the list of advocacy efforts. IREM watchdogs have also pledged to scrutinize ongoing developments related to short-term rentals and accommodating medical marijuana users.

Public housing agencies throughout the United States have long relied on privately owned rental stock, enabled through the federal Housing Choice Voucher program, to accommodate families and individuals that qualify for assistance. Federal funding covers the difference between tenants’ monthly contribution, which is capped at 30 per cent of their income, and the total rent negotiated by private landlords and the local public housing authority. However, private sector participation is declining — an outcome IREM attributes to “significantly reduced funding” and “increased regulations and burdensome requirements.”

“We encourage action by Congress to alleviate the hardships experienced by sponsors of projects for low-income residents through operating subsidies for restoring the economic viability of projects that are well conceived and properly managed, and to adequately fund HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) to carry out these objectives,” it states.

Meanwhile, HUD’s prohibition on any marijuana use in federally assisted housing creates legal uncertainty for landlords and property managers in 23 states (plus Washington D.C.) that permit the drug for medical reasons. Notably, fair housing laws in states such as California mean that landlords cannot deny the reasonable accommodation of tenants deemed eligible for medical marijuana.

IREM has a working group devoted to the issue and has committed to “continue to work with HUD staff to create reasonable, clear guidelines for property managers and owners”. It is also monitoring the burgeoning issue of short-term rentals and sharing economy services enabled through social media, but, thus far, has not adopted a policy stance.

“Short-term rentals can be problematic for property managers as they are left policing the short-term tenants with no knowledge of who they are,” IREM states. “Some landlords have embraced this trend by working with their tenants to allow short-term rentals, and collecting a fee from each rental.”

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