Tenant protections bill fails to cross finish line in Senate

A scene from The Retreat at Greenbriar apartment complex in Atlanta on Friday, December 9, 2022.   (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

A scene from The Retreat at Greenbriar apartment complex in Atlanta on Friday, December 9, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

A bill to provide one of most significant boosts in Georgia tenant protections in decades failed to come up for a Senate vote during the legislative session’s final hours Wednesday.

HB 404 would for the first time require Georgia landlords to provide rentals that are “fit for human habitation.” Georgia is one of only three states lacking such a standard, and housing advocates rallied behind the measure, calling it a meaningful step toward making housing safe and decent for families.

While experts said it fell short of giving tenants key protections that they need to fight back against unscrupulous landlords, the bipartisan compromise had the backing of House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, and won the House March 2 to a standing ovation.

In a statement, Burns spokesman Kaleb McMichen called the lack of a vote in the Senate disappointing.

“We heard no objections to the measure — which passed the House unanimously — so we are hopeful that the Senate will pass this priority next year,” McMichen said.

Lobbyist Elizabeth Appley, who represents a group of nonprofits that support healthy housing and families, said the stalled bill will mean Georgians will continue to live in conditions that harm their health and wellbeing. Some may lose their homes for lack of HB 404′s tenant protections.

“It’s very sad that vulnerable families will have to live another year, at least, with dangerous, unsafe housing that is not fit for human beings to live in,” she said. A coalition of housing activists will continue to advance the bill next legislative session.

A recent AJC poll of registered voters found that 90% said Georgia should create laws that set minimum living requirements for rental properties.

Dalton Rep. Kasey Carpenter, a Republican, introduced HB 404 in response to “Dangerous Dwellings,” an 18-month investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that showed tens of thousands of metro area renters living in perilous conditions while apartment owners flipped the properties for millions more than they purchased them.

Landlords ignored complaints of roaches, mold, rats and raw sewage spills or persistent violent crime, sometimes retaliating against tenants for speaking out, renters said. An AJC analysis based on crime reports, code complaints and other public records identified more than 270 persistently dangerous complexes in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Fulton counties.

Combined, these complexes account for at least 281 homicides and 20,000 serious crimes over the past five years, the Journal-Constitution examination showed.

The Safe at Home Act also would provide tenants who fail to pay rent a three-day grace period before their landlords may file for eviction in court. It also would cap security deposits at two months’ worth of rent.

HB 404 did not describe what actions tenants may take if their landlord refuses to make repairs, or define what “fit for human habitation” means.