These tenant protections exist in Connecticut, and advocates say they're more important than ever
“People want to move to Connecticut. The general infrastructure is there for our state to do well. What we don’t have is a housing stock to support the level of growth needed to grow our economy,” said Rep. Quentin Williams (D-Middletown), the co-chair of the state Housing Committee.
Williams spoke during a virtual panel Wednesday afternoon on tenant protections hosted by the Partnership for Strong Communities.
While building more housing is the obvious long-term solution, advocates who spoke on the panel alongside other state and local partners said that relying on existing protections can help renters avoid housing instability.
What help exists for renters in Connecticut?
- Fair rent commissions: These volunteer-based municipal boards can help tenants fight unfair rent increases and poor housing conditions. The boards act as mediators between landlords and tenants and evaluate several characteristics to come to a fair decision for both parties. About 20 municipalities have active fair rent commissions. Thanks to legislation passed last session, all municipalities with 25,000 residents or more should have a commission established by next summer.
- Right to Counsel program: As the third state to endorse right to counsel protections, Connecticut now provides free legal aid to some renters facing eviction. The program is still being phased in and is active in only 13 ZIP codes, but advocates say more than half of renters have already already had their cases dropped and about 60% have avoided an unwanted move.
- Federal and state fair housing laws: Some renters are protected against housing discrimination thanks to state and federal laws. While laws don’t prevent discrimination, they offer tenants recourse they experience it. The following are protected classes in Connecticut: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, family status, disability (mental or physical), ancestry, marital status, age, veteran status and lawful source of income.
- Landlord retaliation protections: Under state law, a landlord cannot evict a tenant within six months after a tenant has in good faith tried to remedy the issue by contacting officials, filing a complaint with fair rent commission, etc.; the tenant has in good faith requested repairs; the tenant has joined a tenant union; and more.
- Just-cause evictions: Tenants living in a complex of five or more units who are A) 62 years or older or living with someone 62 years or older or B) someone with a physical or mental disability are protected from no-cause evictions. In other words, a landlord cannot evict a protected tenant because their lease expired or because the lease won’t be renewed.
Advocates say these protections are crucial, but more can always be done.
Moving into the next legislative session, advocates hope to help streamline housing development, find creative ways to make renting more affordable and improve existing programs — especially right to counsel.
“We know from other jurisdictions, this decreases the eviction rate, even eviction filings and forced moves,” said Sarah White, an attorney with the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.
“We need more permanent funding so we’ll start to address some of the inequities in the power imbalance between landlords and tenants,” White said.