We Need Rental Registries Now More Than Ever

Most communities lack a way of collecting real-time data on whether landlords are complying with rules. A rental registry could change that.

2 minute read

December 29, 2020, 11:00 AM PST

By LM_Ortiz

For Rent

dc_slim / Shutterstock

Being a landlord is a unique line of work. In few sectors can someone assume so much responsibility with so little training.

In most cases, a downpayment and a good credit score is all it takes to buy and begin managing a rental property, the place where tenants eat, sleep, play, raise their children, and—increasingly—work. Because the bar to entry is so low, many landlords are unaware of their responsibilities, or they are actively malicious and exploitative; they may increase rents beyond legal limits or make unenforceable eviction threats, for example, and they often get away with it because tenants typically know even less about their rights. Most decisions that landlords make about their tenants’ housing situations are never approved, reviewed, or even witnessed by an outside party. It’s a system designed for abuse.

As renters face illness and job loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a confusing patchwork of state and local eviction protections is the only thing staving off homelessness for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of vulnerable households. Despite the importance of these protections, public officials lack real-time data to know whether landlords are complying with the rules or flouting them—not just for recent eviction protections, but also pre-existing regulations like building code requirements and rent control

As a result, enforcement is spotty at best. A National Housing Law Project survey found that 91 percent of legal aid and civil rights attorneys reported that they have witnessed illegal evictions in their area. The solution to this problem is a rental registry, a simple online tool to track basic information about rental housing and the treatment of tenants. With minimal cost and hassle, rental registries can add much-needed transparency to the landlord-tenant relationship, keeping landlords accountable and helping renters stay safe and stable in their homes.

Rental registries already exist in cities across the country, including Raleigh, Seattle, Minneapolis, eight cities in California, and at least 20 in Texas. The costs on the city’s end are modest. San Francisco recently estimated a $300,000 startup cost with annual costs of around $1.7 million to $3.6 million per year. Most existing registries were created only to support code enforcement activities, but a simple set of requirements could allow them to do much more. 

For instance ...

Friday, December 18, 2020 in Shelterforce Magazine

Chicago Intercity Rail

Amtrak Ramping Up Infrastructure Projects

Thanks to federal funding from the 2021 infrastructure act, the agency plans to triple its investment in infrastructure improvements and new routes in the next two years.

September 25, 2023 - Smart Cities Dive

Google maps street view of San Francisco alleyway.

Ending Downtown San Francisco’s ‘Doom Loop’

A new public space project offers an ambitious vision—so why is the city implementing it at such a small scale?

September 26, 2023 - Fast Company

Google street view of yellow "End Freeway 1/4 mile" sign on 90 freeway in Los Angeles, California.

Proposal Would Transform L.A.’s ‘Freeway to Nowhere’ Into Park, Housing

A never-completed freeway segment could see new life as a mixed-use development with housing, commercial space, and one of the county’s largest parks.

September 26, 2023 - Los Angeles Times

Newly constructed houses in Tempe, Arizona.

Tempe Historic Preservation Proposal Could Make it Harder to Build New Homes

Proposed changes to the city’s preservation ordinance would make two-thirds of the city’s housing stock eligible for preservation.

3 minutes ago - The State Press

Blue and green city bus blurred in transit on New York City street.

How to Measure Transit Equity

A new report highlights the need to go beyond traditional equity metrics to assess how public transit systems are serving the lowest-income and most disadvantaged riders.

1 hour ago - Mineta Institute

Sketch of proposed city with buildings, trees, and people.

Why Brand New Cities Won’t Solve Our Urban Problems

Building cities takes time and resources. Why not spend them on fixing the ones we have?

2 hours ago - The Atlantic

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.