Summary: For residential tenants, collective action is often the most effective, or only, way to solve legitimate grievances against the landlord. The Tenants Right to Organize Act protects the right of tenants to form and operate an organization to advocate on their own behalf.
This model is based on Washington D.C. Section 42-3505.06, probably the strongest such law in the country, as well as Seattle SMC 22.206.180G.
For background, see this fact sheet from the University of Minnesota; this fact sheet from the National Low Income Housing Coalition; and this press release about a consent agreement in the District of Columbia. For a discussion of existing statutes on the right to organize, see the 2018 law review article by Christopher Bangs in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy.
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE
This Act shall be called the “Tenants Right to Organize Act.”
SECTION 2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSE
(A) FINDINGS—The legislature/council finds that:
1) In order to advocate for better living conditions and better treatment from landlords and property managers, and to address landlord-tenant complaints of all kinds, residential tenants must have explicit rights to freely meet, freely complain, and post and disseminate tenant organization literature without fear of retaliation.
2) Some landlords have engaged in efforts to intimidate, harass, and retaliate against residents who attempt to organize their fellow tenants to collectively address legitimate concerns. Some landlords have denied access to common rooms for meetings or intentionally disrupted those meetings so that they cannot be peacefully held. Some landlords have threatened tenant union leaders with unlawful evictions and removed educational fliers placed in public spaces.
3) California, New York and the District of Columbia explicitly protect tenants’ rights to organize. Nearly thirty other states have adopted a short provision from the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) or a comparable provision, which simply bars landlords from retaliating against tenants for participating in a tenant union, which is, by itself, nearly unenforceable. Other states have no statutory protection at all.
4) Tenants must be able to engage in basic organizing activities, such as holding meetings, disseminating informational literature, engaging with non-tenant organizers to assist organizing efforts, and advocating for each other as a unified group.
(B) PURPOSE—This law is enacted to strengthen residential tenants’ ability to organize and advocate for themselves.
SECTION 3. TENANTS RIGHT TO ORGANIZE
After section XXX, the following new section XXX shall be inserted:
(A) DEFINITIONS—In this section:
“Tenant organizer” means a person who assists tenants in establishing and operating a tenant organization and is not an employee or representative of the current or prospective owner, the current or prospective manager, or an agent of such persons.
(B) TENANTS RIGHT TO ORGANIZE
1) Tenants shall have the right to self-organization; to join, meet and assist one another; to confer through representatives of their own choosing with an owner; to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of mutual aid and protection; or to refrain from such activity if they choose.
2) Tenants and tenant organizers shall have the rights to:
a) Distribute literature in common areas, including lobby areas;
b) Place literature at or under tenants’ doors;
c) Post information on all building bulletin boards;
d) Assist tenants to participate in tenant organization activities;
e) Convene tenants or tenant organization meetings at any reasonable time and in any appropriate space that would reasonably be interpreted as areas that the tenant had access to under the terms of their lease, including any tenant’s unit, a community room, a common area including lobbies, or other available space; provided, that an owner or agent of an owner shall not attend or make audio recordings of such meetings unless permitted to do so by the tenant organization or by a majority of tenants in attendance;
f) Formulate responses to owner actions, including rent or rent ceiling increases or requests for rent or rent ceiling increases; proposed increases, decreases, or other changes in the housing accommodation’s facilities and services; and conversion of residential units to nonresidential use, cooperative housing, or condominiums;
g) Propose that the owner or management modify the housing accommodation’s facilities and services; and
h) Any other activity reasonably related to the establishment or operation of a tenant organization or tenant union.
3) Tenant organizers shall have right to canvass:
a) If a multifamily housing accommodation has a written policy favoring canvassing, any tenant organizer who is not a tenant shall be afforded the same privileges and rights of access as other uninvited outside parties in the normal course of operations.
b) If the multifamily housing accommodation does not have a consistently enforced, written policy against canvassing, the multifamily housing accommodation shall be treated as if it has a policy favoring canvassing.
c) If a multifamily housing accommodation has a consistently enforced, written policy against canvassing, a tenant shall accompany a tenant organizer who is not a tenant while the tenant organizer is on the property of the multifamily housing accommodation. The tenant organizer who is not a tenant shall be afforded the same privileges and rights of access as other invited outside parties in the normal course of operations.
4) No owner or agent of an owner of a multifamily housing accommodation shall:
a) Interfere with the right of a tenant or tenant organizer to conduct activities protected under this section;
b) Threaten, penalize, or in any other manner discriminate or retaliate against any person because that person has engaged in conduct protected under this section; or
c) Hinder or delay the [administrative authority] in the investigation of violations or enforcement of this section.
(C) ENFORCEMENT—Any owner, any person with an ownership interest in an owner, or an agent of an owner of a multifamily housing accommodation who knowingly violates any provision of this section, or any rule or regulation issued or promulgated in furtherance of this section, shall be subject to:
1) A civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 for each violation;
2) An injunctive order respecting future behavior;
3) Liability for damages to tenants, or to a tenant organization or its members;
4) Suspension or revocation of the owner or agent’s business license or registration, during which period the rent for any rental unit in the housing accommodation shall not be increased; and
5) Reasonable attorney’s fees under [list appropriate statute].
SECTION 4. EFFECTIVE DATE
This law shall become effective on July 1, 202X.