Real Estate Investors Association of Greater Cincinnati

Legislation and Government Affairs Updates

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 Legislation and Government Affairs Updates:

Investors know that legislation and government are key components to growing your real estate business. It is for this reason that REIAGC works daily to bring information on key issues that may affect you. The information on this page is for education only and is not to be construed as legal advice. 

New Legislation Will Benefit Private Firm,
Won’t Really Help Tenants

Cincinnati Councilmember PG Sittenfeld’s proposal to mandate an insurance product instead of a security deposits was intended to help people who don’t have cash for a deposit. However, in the end, it will simply send business to a private company selling an untested product. And most importantly, the tenants who need the most help likely won’t get it. What’s needed is a pilot program to see whether this approach works or not.

“The legislation was inspired by a housing policy plan proposed by Rhino, a tech startup tackling the housing affordability crisis.”

This quote is from Rhino’s public relations firm announcing Sittenfeld’s proposal. It’s pretty clear that the “tech firm” has had a hand in creating this new mandate. Property owners will be required to offer insurance that meets these criteria:

  1. It must have a monthly payment option. Of 4 insurers we found who offer some sort of lower-cost insurance or bond for rental deposits, only 2, including Rhino, offered this option.
  2. It must guarantee to settle any damage claims with the property owner within 48 hours. Of the 4 insurer websites we reviewed, only 1—Rhino—assures this service.
  3. The proposed ordinance requires that property owners designate insurance providers for tenants. The ability to shop for the best rates and services will not be left up to the tenants.
  4. Rhino is apparently one of only four companies that meet the full requirements of the law it’s likely they will benefit the most from legislation.

Does the City of Cincinnati want a tech startup dictating housing policy?

The New Law Won’t Help Tenants, Could Expose Them to Legal Action

Rhino and other companies won’t automatically approve tenants for insurance, they require credit cards, credit checks, and other requirements that the tenants who struggle the most with housing simply don’t have.

  1. Tenants MUST have a credit or debit card. Many lower income tenants do not have credit cards or bank accounts.
  2. The premium payments do not end at the end of the first year.
  3. Tenants must pay it for the length of their tenancy.
  1. A tenant who stays in the same house for 5 years—ideal, from the perspective of stability—could end up paying most of a normal deposit without getting their money back.
  2. If AT ANY TIME, tenants don’t pay the monthly premium, Rhino sends the full deposit, in cash, to the landlord, then “goes after the tenant” for the deposit. A tenant could pay for 23 months, stop, and Rhino will sue them, resulting in harm to their credit.

And here's the real kicker--even with the premiums paid fully up to date, tenants are still on the hook for the full deposit, should a claim be made!

Rhino representatives have confirmed that when a claim is made, it's paid to the landlord, and then the tenants are billed for the claim.

If they can't pay the full amount, they're offered a payment plan (apparently with attendant fees and interest), and if they don't make the payment, they're sent to collections, further damaging their credit, adding even more cost to the "deposit", and undoubtedly causing additional stress, both financial and emotional.

In other words, many tenants will end up worse off, by every measure, with the insurance than without it--and you'll be forced to market it to them if this law passes.

 Let’s Find Out if Insurance Really Works Before We Require It

Property owners and managers are willing to try this product out to see if it works for them and for their customers. But why force a tech company’s untested product on people who are struggling to find housing in our community. The answer is to allow more housing and encourage new ideas, not force people to buy something from an out-of-state tech company.

Update: This ordinance was discussed at a Cincinnati City Council meeting on Tuesday, December 2nd 2019. Here is a summary of that meeting, from president Scott Ellsworth:

  • Of more than 20 speakers, only 2 were in favor of the legislation; one was a tenant who mistakenly believed that deposit insurance covers the losses of the TENANT for damages. It does not; the tenant is still on the hook for all damages paid by the insurance company

 2 speakers from a tenant organization spoke out against the legislation, saying that the problem wasn’t deposits, it was that we need rent control and limits on rent increases

 REIA had a good turnout, and members clearly made the point that this legislation is unnecessary, and that the product is not beneficial to most tenants.

  • A representative from Rhino confirmed in a private conversation after the meeting that tenants with the insurance are pursued for damages when Rhino pays claims to landlords

 PG Sittenfeld, who introduced the legislation, stated that “something” needed to be passed in order to eliminate deposits as a barrier to entry to rental properties, and asked for alternative solutions to be emailed to him by Monday.

 Sittenfeld also commented on a tweet that he believed to be from Cincinnati REIA that he felt was inflammatory; this tweet did not originate from us or our account—REIAgc was “tagged” in the tweet in question along with several other organizations.

 A second hearing will be held in 2 weeks, on Tuesday, December 17th. (note: this meeting was cancelled)

 Our position is that we have shown that the legislation is both unnecessary and mandates that local property owners push a product on behalf of a private company that isn’t beneficial for many of the renter/customers that we serve, and that is unproven in its ability to “protect “ us.

 Further, no one has shown, or even attempted to show, through any data that actual lack of deposit is a significant barrier to entry to rentals in Cincinnati—a shortage of sheer numbers of units of affordable housing is the most pressing issue. Therefore, our stance is that there is no proven problem here that needs solving, and that it is NOT necessary that “something” be passed—the best solution is to simply abandon this legislation in favor of a larger, more comprehensive plan that includes local housing providers in an effort to remove barriers to creating and providing affordable housing

 However, we need your help in the following ways:

 We will be meeting with city council members this week to make our suggestions known to them; we need members who own properties in the city who can attend these meetings along with a leader who is fully versed in all the issues

  1. We need as many members as possible to attend the next committee meeting on December 17th
  2. We need your stories: what’s your experience in terms of applicants for whom a full rental deposit IS a barrier? Do you see many? When you do, how do you work out the issue? What other suggestions do you have for the committee?

 If you can help in any of these areas, please email 2020 president Felicia Bell at feliciabell95@yahoo.com. We appreciate you!

Following the December 2nd meeting, P.G. Sittenfeld invited members of REIAGC and the Greater Cincinnati Apartment Association to to a private meeting to discuss housing provider concerns. The following summary was provided by Felicia Bell:

Overall, we were prepared that this legislation would be pushed forward.  The  intent of the meeting was for P.G. Sittenfeld to understand what we could live with regarding this legislation.  As it stands, the legislation is moving forward with an exemption for landlords with an exemption for landlords with less than  ~30 units.  Also, we proposed that the ordinance would only apply if the landlords were charging more than one months rent , then the landlord would have to provide an option.  

 The idea was discussed that perhaps housing providers might be allowed to offer any one of 3 alternative options to cash security deposits:

1) Installment plans for payment

3) Bonds offered by private companies for payment

4) The Security Deposit Loan product 

 Based on this  the apartment association along with Scott and myself conveyed repeatedly that this law is not good and its not necessary.  But P.G. still believes there is a problem based on the 12 renters that he has spoken with over the course of the month.  

  Despite providing numerous examples of "this is not a universal problem", we walked out unsuccessful in conveying this message. 

 Key Takeaways

1) the true benefactors of this legislation will be the YUPPIES (Young Urban Professionals) looking to rent expensive properties in downtown Cincinnati;

 2) We have to have a massive push to get the data (demographics of our membership).  It will be crucial to the leverage and the voice that we have in these decisions.  

3) City Council does not have data either.  So it will be a lot less challenging in we have some data versus their NO data. 

4) We have to have a stated position and the relationships in City Hall to get the respect and call to action we will need moving forward. 

5)  We have to get clear on our mission and strategy to address these scenarios in the future.   

The next hearing on this issue is unscheduled as of this writing; we will contact members when we know when we know when it is. Again, if you can help with city council contacts, visits, press contacts, or simply being present at council meetings where these issues are discussed, please contact FeliciaBell95@Yahoo.com 




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