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Atlanta’s new “renter’s choice” rule could boost housing accessibility

Sean Keenan

By Sean Keenan

A new City of Atlanta rule could help people hurdle costly barriers separating them from stable housing. 

When folks find rental housing in the city, they’re often required to put down a security deposit — typically worth the same as a month’s rent or more — before moving in, but many people don’t have enough in savings to shell out for two months of rent just to get their foot in the door. 

On Monday, though, the Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance that allows renters to buy “rental security insurance” in lieu of paying a security deposit. For an apartment priced at $1,000 a month, that means a tenant might pay about $5 monthly for the policy, according to Jordan Stein, public policy chief for insurance firm Rhino.

Rhino engaged with City of Atlanta officials after hearing councilmembers were brewing what’s called “renter’s choice” legislation, a model that had success in Cincinnati, Stein told SaportaReport in an interview. 

“Around the country, $45 billion is locked up in security deposits,” he said. More than $750 million of that is in Atlanta alone “sitting in low- to no-interest escrow accounts.” If you replace security deposits with insurance policies, the logic goes, all that money floating around in financial limbo could be put back into the local economy. 

But the main thrust of the legislation, according to Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi, is to “make it cheaper for people to get into an apartment.” That’s particularly important in an economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, and for an Atlanta that has long grappled with income inequality and a severe affordable housing shortage. 

The new ordinance also allows renters to choose to pay their security deposits in three equal monthly installments, helping to lower a hurdle that might otherwise keep people searching for a home.

The paper now awaits Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ signature, at which point the new law would take effect.

(Header image, via Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership: An affordable home in Pittsburgh.)

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Sunshine October 8, 2020 11:09 am

    Credit Score accounted as a strike also need to be re-evaluated. I know of well off people that don’t pay their bills on time and destroyed apartments. Yet have no problem getting in because they have the money.

    I take care of my places, because it’s my sanctuary and abode. However because my credit is shy of “good” I get rejected. No evictions, bankruptcy or judgments. Atlanta is the only state, that I resided in, that has kept me from being able to rent on my own. I’ve been here 3 years and still homeless, working for the city for 2 of those years. It’s very shameful.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Dan Davis October 8, 2020 11:21 am

    When you allow people to have a small deposit, you tend to not get the next month’s rent. I’ve been in the business for 15 years. When I first started I charged a low deposit. This was a disaster for me as a landlord. I went for years making nothing at all.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Harold A Shaw October 8, 2020 1:10 pm

    This new policy for renter’s is a God send. I’m ready for it!Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Eva October 8, 2020 4:08 pm

    Thats great..the cost of rent is outrageous by itself, adding security deposits plus 2 months rent is ridiculous. With this pandemic that leaves a lot of people struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
    People shouldn’t have to stress about where they are going to lay their heads .
    We need more caring and passionate property owners.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Christopher Wynn October 9, 2020 7:49 pm

    Thank you !!! God is GreatReport

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Curtis Smith October 13, 2020 10:51 am

    Hi Everyone. My wife and I are Ma and Pa landlords, which most don’t know comprise 70% of the owners of non apartment building doors. Small timers like us owning a few rentals for retirement income. We have great relationships with all our tenants. Being a landlord is a 2 way street and we’ve had babies born, marriages etc, we consider ourselves caring and good landlords. But this business is a harder business then everyone must think! We are getting our pockets picked as if it was easy and gusshing with profit!! (NOT)

    First the CARES act attempted to cut us off at the knees with being forced to rent our houses for free and still haveing to fix things. Then the CDC extended our losses. We live on the rent (net of mortgage and expesns) by the way!

    Now our ability to screen tenenats who have bank accounts with move in cash is being removed from our business and control. We actually make very little from each rental contrary to what you might think. The difference between rent and mortgage, insurance, taxes (WOW taxes!) is just a few $100/door. This is the truth. A bad tenant, leaving a few months arears ($2-4k) damage and an expensive turnover fix up ($1k to $5k, yes $5k), that is 2-3 years profit lost, lost!! This is the honest truth re owning rental houses.

    When tenants don;t have cash at risk there’s little motivation to take care of the home. This will force more of us small timers to sell our rentals to nice home buyers, paying top dollar and we will be out and Atlanta (and Cincinatti where this dumb idea came from) are now have fewer rentals year after year as landlords are driven out of business. Those West cost cities have fewer doors of rentals today vs 10 yrs ago. Isnt that crazy!

    Ok ok the tenants say “I want free s***”. Fine!

    That free stuff comes from some where and if Gov is not willing to step in with deposit assistance programs (??) it surrely cant be taken out of the landlords pocket book for long anyway till we just toss in the towel. Free and damage and losses and being forced to provide housing for freee (CARES/CDC) will NOT have the effect local government hopes for!!!!

    >>The law of un-intended consequences is always in play.<<

    Mayor Bottoms, please don't sign this bill its not the gain you think it is. The title of this article is actually the opposite in the long run.Report

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Ken October 14, 2020 11:29 am

      Curtis,

      Sadly, politicians think in the short-term. The same thing is happening with all of the “affordable housing” talk. Atlanta does not have a shortage of affordable housing. Atlanta needs to clean up and free up existing communities.

      By controlling prices on new development, politicians increase the income disparity they bemoan. When market inventory is limited, the profit must be made somewhere. So, wealthier people can pay the higher prices to make room for lower income people. The people in middle incomes are priced out and don’t qualify for programs.Report

      Reply

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