Lawmakers Urge President to Take Executive Actions on Renter Protections

Lawmakers Urge President to Take Executive Actions on Renter Protections

Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) of the U.S. Senate recently sent a letter to the White House urging President Biden to take executive action to address rising rents and ensure renters and people experiencing homelessness are stably housed this winter. Fifty democratic members of Congress have signed the letter and it has been endorsed by over 80 housing, climate, education, and immigration organizations.

Between the lines: Currently, the U.S. Congress is divided, with Republicans holding the House while Democrats hold the Senate and White House. The split will significantly affect either party's ability to pass significant legislation through Congress, but particularly Democrats, who also hold the presidency. The result could be two years of partisan deadlock that may remain unresolved until the next election cycle in 2024.

As such, the letter suggests executive actions or orders the Biden Administration could undertake now without legislative action. An executive order is a signed, written, and published directive from the President of the United States that manages operations of the federal government. Executive orders are not legislation, they require no approval from Congress, and Congress cannot simply overturn them. Congress may pass legislation that might make it difficult, or even impossible, to carry out the order, such as removing funding. And only a sitting U.S. President may overturn an existing executive order by issuing another executive order to that effect.

One level deeper: The letter lists seven executive actions the Biden Administration could undertake. The suggestions include the following:

  • Directing the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to establish renter protections for tenants in properties financed with government-backed mortgages.
  • Instructing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue regulations defining excessive rent increases as a practice that unfairly affects commerce, and enforcing action against unfair rent-gouging practices.
  • Directing HUD to issue guidance to entitlement jurisdictions on the importance of mitigating housing cost-burdens and adopting anti-rent-gouging measures as an important aspect of affirmatively furthering fair housing.
  • Encouraging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to work with HUD to investigate instances of corporate landlords discriminating against tenants.
  • Encouraging states to use State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) provided in the American Rescue Plan Act to invest in the construction of affordable housing for people with the lowest incomes, and to strengthen and extend emergency rental assistance programs.
  • Activating Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) resources to help move people experiencing homelessness into permanent, affordable homes.
  • Establishing a Federal Interagency Council on Tenants’ Rights to identify interagency actions that could be taken to support renters and coordinate the implementation of renter-protection policies.

The letter notes that in addition to the suggested Executive Branch efforts, there is an urgent need for Congress to pursue legislation on the issues of tenant protections and unaffordable housing costs, including the momentous investments in affordable housing included in the House-passed Build Back Better Act.