The legislation aims to add protections for tenants

With Albuquerque landlords opposed to any move toward rent control, a city councilman set out to explore other ways to alleviate financial pressures on low-income households.

The result is what Councilwoman Tammy Fiebelkorn calls the “Apartment Tenant Protection Ordinance,” new legislation targeting “deceptive” practices and “unreasonable” fees. Fiebelkorn’s draft law does not address rents or increases, but would regulate fees and parts of the application process.

Her proposal comes about a month after the City Council — taking into account objections from rental property owners — rejected a Fiebelkorn bill that asked the New Mexico Legislature to repeal a state law preventing cities from imposing rent controls. She describes her new proposal as a logical progression from that discussion, claiming it’s a relatively painless way to help Albuquerque residents who live on the fringes while housing costs soar.

“It’s something we can do now that wouldn’t have a potentially negative impact on landlords, but it would certainly help, especially people on low incomes trying to find and stay in housing,” she said.

The bill hasn’t been publicly debated or passed through a council committee, but it’s already ringing alarm bells among landlords.

The President of the Apartment Association of New Mexico told the City Council during the general public comment period last week that the group was “adamantly opposed” to Fiebelkorn’s new legislation, which also includes a separate bill that would require landlords to obtain city permits for their homes obtain rental properties. Steve Grant said association members were concerned about several components of the bills.

“Are we going to be the city that wants to continue growing in a positive direction with new job growth, new business expansions and, yes, future housing, or are we going to be a city that’s having such a hard time dealing with these businesses and? prospective investors decide not to deal with Albuquerque and run from us?” Grant said during the council meeting.

Fiebelkorn’s Tenant Protection Ordinance would prevent landlords from charging tenants more than their own costs for processing applications or for any other fees they ask for over and above rent or security deposit. They also could not assess fees for paying rent by cash, check, money order or through an online portal, nor could they refuse to accept cash, checks or money orders.

In addition, legislation prohibits landlords from charging a pet fee unless the lease is less than one year. Landlords could still ask for a pet deposit, but Fiebelkorn noted that deposits are refunded if the landlord hasn’t incurred any costs related to the animal.

Since joining the city council, Fiebelkorn said renters had made her aware of a number of fees she didn’t even know existed. She said she wants to make sure these aren’t just profitable inventions and that they’re properly understood by tenants. Therefore, her bill would require landlords to disclose to potential applicants all application and other fees provided for in the lease. Every time they charge a fee, they would have to provide proof of their expenses.

“Having some detail on what type of charges may be charged and making sure it’s only passing the actual cost through to the owner seems like a small, easy way, a kind of cost stabilization for people on low incomes provide,” Fiebelkorn said.

Under her proposal, landlords would also be required to disclose, upfront and in writing, the minimum income and credit rating required to qualify for their rental unit, as well as any background information that would result in disqualification.

The bill would also mandate other elements of the application process. For example, landlords could only process 10 applications for a single unit and not move on to another batch unless none of the first 10 qualify. Landlords would be required to refund application fees if they never reviewed a prospective tenant’s paperwork prior to subletting or denied an application in writing without providing a reason.

Fiebelkorn said rent payments — not fees — should be the landlord’s profit instrument. She acknowledged that they could simply raise rents if they lose other income, but that her proposal should at least provide more transparency.

“There’s some information up front so everyone can decide if they can afford this place or not,” she said.