Dems propose rent control bills amid ongoing housing crisis

Democratic lawmakers in the Arizona House of Representatives are looking to pass a suite of housing bills that aim to help renters weather the ongoing housing crisis, but their proposals have detractors in the state’s powerful landlord lobby. 

Four bills proposed by Rep. Analisa Ortiz and another by Rep. Judy Schwiebert would get rid of Arizona’s statewide ban on rent control, give more power to tenants, prevent landlords from discriminating against people who receive housing assistance and implement a cap on rental increases across the state. 

Rent increases in Arizona have been “out of control,” Ortiz told the Arizona Mirror, including in her Legislative District 24, which includes Maryvale and South Glendale. 

“We need solutions urgently,” Ortiz said. 

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Late last summer, a national report showed that the median rental price in Phoenix had increased 46% over the previous year. At that time, the median rental price in Phoenix was $2,350, increasing more than $700 over the preceding year. And the increase was a whopping 124% in Tucson, according to the Phoenix Business Journal.

Although rents in the state had started dropping slightly by late last year, homelessness in Arizona, and specifically in the metro Phoenix area, is still on the rise as housing remains unaffordable for many. 

Homelessness in Arizona increased by 21% from 2020 to 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Increases in both rent and the cost of housing were partially caused by a housing shortage, but Ortiz said she believes that new building is only part of the solution, especially since building takes so much time. 

“In the immediate, people are suffering with rent increases that are hundreds of dollars and they cannot afford it,” she said. 

Her House Bill 2086 would repeal Arizona’s law that prevents cities and towns from implementing their own rent caps, and Schwiebert’s House Bill 2161 would implement a statewide rent control law that would prevent landlords from increasing a tenant’s rent more than 10% over the course of a year. 

Ortiz believes that this would keep rent increases to a “reasonable amount to allow the market to stabilize and ensure families can keep a roof over their head.”

Her other housing bills would require landlords to make certain disclosures to tenants before they move in, including additional fees beyond rent; allow tenants to opt out of any nonessential services like trash pickup from their unit; and to allow tenants to pay rent by using any legal tender. Her House Bill 2083 would also require landlords to give tenants a five-day grace period after rent is due before charging late fees, and specifies that a landlord cannot accept a partial rent payment and then proceed to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent. The bill, however, does not require landlords to accept partial payments, and landlords would have the right to kick out tenants if they fail to make their next scheduled payment. 

Another measure from Ortiz, House Bill 2085, would prevent landlords from refusing to rent to a prospective tenant because the tenant receives housing assistance and would require landlords who require a certain income threshold to count housing assistance toward a tenant’s income. 

“It’s critical that, when somebody is told that they can get some housing assistance, that they can find an apartment that’s going to accept that housing assistance,” Ortiz said. “I’m very optimistic about the source of income discrimination bill that I have proposed, because nobody should be discriminated against when looking for a home just because they are relying on critically needed housing assistance.”

Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, president and CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association, believes that these bills won’t fix the problems they set out to tackle. The AMA is a trade organization that advocates for the apartment industry, representing more than 2,000 members across the state. 

“As has been the case over the past few years, the new legislative session has seen some members file bills which share the same goal: Curtailing the rights of property owners, making it more difficult for companies and mom-and-pop owners to stay in business and to provide homes for individuals and families,” LeVinus said in a statement to the Mirror. 

LeVinus argued that, instead of implementing rent control, the state should focus on getting rid of obstacles to new building to more quickly increase the state’s housing supply.

“We need to slash away layers of bureaucracy and fight the rampant NIMBYism that makes building new homes such a slow, torturous process,” LeVinus said. “Doing so would address the housing crisis — not make it worse — and help ensure the Arizona economy continues on a steady upward trajectory.”

LeVinus pointed to St. Paul, Minn., as an example of a rent control policy that was implemented and soon revised after critics said it caused a slow-down in building projects. 

Through a ballot initiative approved in 2021, the citizens of St. Paul voted to implement a rent control ordinance that would cap annual increases at 3%. But only five months after the ordinance was implemented, the city council voted to make significant changes to the law, including to allow inflation as an excuse for an exemption from the 3% cap, and to exempt new construction for 20 years. 

“Rent control builds nothing,” LeVinus said. “In fact, it would make this crisis exponentially worse. Rent control creates a deterrent and disincentive to building more rental housing. The irony is, this policy would end up hurting the people advocates say they want to help by limiting housing accessibility and affordability.”

On the other hand, Dominique Medina, co-executive director of Fuerte Arts Movement, which launched its “Rent is Too High” campaign last year, is feeling optimistic about the proposed housing bills. 

“We also know that reality is,” Medina said, acknowledging that it will be an uphill battle to get these bills past the Republican-controlled legislature. “It’s going to take a lot of community support to get them through the process and signed by the governor.”

Many of the housing issues that Fuerte said were causing real harm, including astronomical rent increases, are addressed in Ortiz’s proposals. 

“We’re excited to see her leadership on this,” Medina said. 

He added that for students, having housing provides the stability that helps them succeed and for those suffering illnesses it provides a place to rest and heal. 

“At Fuerte we believe that housing is a human right and we’re in the middle of a housing crisis,” Medina said. “We need to put people over profits.”

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