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Tenant’s rights ordinance tabled by Birmingham

By Grace Lovins

Commentary from citizens and landlord attorneys convinced the Birmingham City Commission to table a decision on passing a tenant’s rights ordinance at the meeting on Monday, April 24, after several shared their disappointment in the draft’s focus.

The commission directed city attorney Mary Kucharek to begin drafting a tenant’s rights ordinance back in December 2022 after former mayor and beloved resident Dorothy Conrad was nearly booted from her home in Baldwin House. Conrad’s situation opened the door for the commission to deliberate adding additional protections for renters related to source of income and the right to renew.

Kucharek presented the second draft of the ordinance at the meeting, noting the catalyst for the discussion being Conrad’s situation. After the last meeting, attorneys representing landlords shared feedback and complaints about the previous draft ordinance language, saying the right to renew protections could have unintended consequences for landlords and other renters. Kucharek suggested, given the feedback, focusing the ordinance on providing additional protections for renters over 65 years old.

“The new proposed ordinance in front of [the commission] really focuses on two things. One, that there would not be discrimination against persons over 65-years of age for their source of income in order to pay their rent; and that if there lease is going to renewed or not renewed, the landlord provide that information in writing with a 90-day notice period so that if it’s not going to be renewed for good cause as defined in state law, that person over 65 has more than weeks or days to scramble to figure out what their life is going to look like,” Kucharek said.

According to Kucharek, focusing on renters 65-year-old and over addresses what brought all of the issues regarding tenant’s rights to the commission and the language proposed takes into account the concerns from people opposing the ordinance, making it more protective of the city.

Many residents, along with commissioner Brad Host, disapproved of the focus on renters over 65 years old. Kucharek said the only law protecting age discrimination based on age was the Elliott Larson Civil Rights Act, explaining it was limited to employers questioning age, but according to other attorneys who spoke, the law applies to housing as well. Renters, fair housing attorneys and attorneys representing landlords all generally agreed in public comment that the ordinance should not pass as written.

“Something is needed, the question is to what degree,” said commissioner Andrew Haig. He proposed developing a tenant and landlord code of conduct to regulate interactions of both parties in the city. “Going to an attorney first can be an expensive, daunting, difficult proposition so if there was a way of having a mediating influence as the first step, perhaps we need to look at something like that,” he said.

Kucharek added that, if that’s the route the commission wanted to take, resolving disputes could be left to trained mediators servings as volunteers. Other commissioners said they would be interested in looking into the practicality of a code but would need to figure out the details and enforceability.

Commissioners voted 7-0 to table discussions of the ordinance. Kucharek was directed to look into the practicality of establishing a code of conduct between renters and landlords, the legality of offering protections to people only over the age of 65 years old, and removing the word ‘citizen’ from the document for inclusivity.


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