Bill would tighten restrictions on renters
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Feb 03, 2014 | 4652 views |  0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In this file photo, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, debates Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, during regular legislative session at the State House in Montgomery. (Photo: AL.com, Julie Bennett/The Associated Press)
In this file photo, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, debates Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, during regular legislative session at the State House in Montgomery. (Photo: AL.com, Julie Bennett/The Associated Press)
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MONTGOMERY — Landlords would have more time to return deposits to former renters, and renters would have less time to pay late rent, if the Alabama Legislature passes a bill filed by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, last week.

Under the state's current landlord-tenant law, landlords have to give renters seven days' notice on late rent before evicting them — and 14 days' notice before terminating a lease because the renter violated the terms of the lease. When tenants leave, the property owner has 35 days to return any deposit paid by the renter or account for why the full deposit wasn't returned.

Marsh's bill would shorten notice times for tenants, giving them four days' notice for late rent and seven days' notice for other violations of a lease. It would give landlords 60 days to return former renters’ deposits.

Marsh said the extra time for the deposit return would help owners of apartment complexes in college towns, where large numbers of renters leave at once at the end of the school year.

"This doesn't mean they can't pay it earlier, but it gives them more time when a lot of people are leaving," he said.

At least one advocacy group for the poor is crying foul on the bill.

"Everything that's beneficial to the landlord, you're speeding up," said Shay Farley, legal director for Alabama Appleseed. "Everything that's beneficial to the tenant, you're slowing down."

Most renters in the state aren't college students, Farley said, and many count on getting their deposits back in a timely fashion when they move.

"Anybody who has ever rented knows that the return of a security deposit, ... particularly if you've been an exemplary tenant, is something you count on to secure the transition," she said. "There's no reason to double the time for that."

Farley said she was particularly troubled by wording in the bill that would deny renters a chance to "cure" violations of a lease when a landlord discovers them.

Current law gives tenants 14 days to fix most problems that violate a lease, though there are a few issues — such as suspected drug use or firing a gun in the rental property — that tenants aren't allowed to cure. Marsh's bill would give landlords the ability to evict renters based on any lease violation, without any time to cure the problem.

Farley said the change would make it easier for landlords to evict people they found less than desirable.

"A landlord could say ‘I've got this nice couple who want to move in, and they're better than these frat boys, so they're out,’” Farley said.

Marsh's bill would also allow landlords to consider rental property to be abandoned if the electrical power to the property is turned off. That's necessary, Marsh said, because a lack of electricity in an air-conditioned building can damage the building.

"You start getting mold issues, and you start getting Sheetrock damage," he said.

Marsh said the bill was brought to him by the Alabama Association of Realtors on behalf of apartment owners in Tuscaloosa. He said he hadn't heard any requests for the changes from Jacksonville — a college town in his district — or from Auburn.

The Star's attempts to reach Association of Realtors director Barry Mask were unsuccessful Monday. The association's political action committee is a regular contributor to political campaigns. State records show it has given more than $200,000 to legislative candidates and candidates for statewide office in the past year. That includes a $10,000 donation to Marsh's re-election campaign.

"I'm hoping this will open a discussion between the tenants' representatives and the landlords about what the rules are going to be," Marsh said of his bill.

For renters, Farley said, changes to those rules can have profound effects.

"We're talking about ridding someone of their dwelling," she said. "It's their place of safety, where they keep their stuff. It means a lot to them."

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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