© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

After day-long debate, Housing Committee OKs tenant protections

Make the Road member Imelda Barajas talks about her experience as a renter at a Feb. 15 press conference in Hartford. Tenants' rights advocates gathered to show support for eviction reform in mid-February.
Make the Road member Imelda Barajas talks about her experience as a renter at a Feb. 15 press conference in Hartford. Tenants' rights advocates gathered to show support for eviction reform in mid-February.

Housing Committee members passed additional tenant protections for Connecticut renters Thursday, despite opposition from Republicans who said the bills violate property rights and discriminate against landlords in a manner similar to discrimination based on race or gender.

During a meeting that spanned eight hours, members voted along party lines to approve bills that would largely end evictions that occur when leases expire, limit consideration of certain criminal records when deciding whether to rent to someone, and require 60-day notice of rent increases.

“Part of the reason that we’re here today is because we have to protect people,” said committee co-chair Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport. “In my opinion, I need to be able to protect people who have to deal with bad landlords, who don’t have the wherewithal, who don’t know their rights.”

Many of Thursday’s arguments were familiar to the Housing Committee. Republicans tend to want smaller government and speak about the value of property rights. Democrats say the industry needs regulation because tenants are living in sub-par housing conditions and facing high rates of eviction.

Ranking member Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, spoke at length about his opposition to the bills, at times likening landlords’ situation to that of groups that have faced race- and gender-based discrimination.

“I worry that when people see other folks doing well, there is less desire to emulate hard work and achievement and more desire to tear those people down and say, ‘They don’t deserve it, that was given to them,’” said Sampson, who is a landlord. “I don’t want to get into a bunch of cruddy politics and people talking about things like white privilege and stuff like that. But, I mean, that’s what that is for me. That’s all racism.”

He added that he didn’t want to put people into boxes and categories.

“It’s been bad since the very first day that anyone judged anyone based on the color of their skin,” Sampson said. “That was wrong the first day it happened. It’s still wrong today, and it doesn’t matter who’s doing it to who. And I don’t like to see legislation that goes down that road.”

Moore said that she had considered both positions from landlords and tenants when she decided to support the legislation regarding evictions.

“The world that you describe on some of this, I have no idea where that world is,” Moore said. “It’s not the world I live in and what I’ve experienced in life.”

She said she believes that the bill is equitable.

“If I thought this was leaning more toward one, I wouldn’t sit here with you and stand on it,” she added.

What’s in the bills

The eviction bill would require landlords to cite a cause when they evict tenants. Current law allows people to face eviction when their lease expires. Connecticut already has protections against lapse-of-time evictions for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Senate Bill 143 would expand those protections to include most tenants who live in apartments with five or more units. The bill has support from tenants rights groups and housing experts, although landlord groups are opposed.

House Bill 5242 would limit landlords’ ability to use criminal history when deciding whether to rent to people. Crimes that are at least three years old couldn’t be considered, except in certain circumstances.

The bill includes carve-outs for people applying to public housing who have manufactured methamphetamines in federally subsidized housing or who have a lifetime registration requirement, such as sex offenders.

People who were formerly incarcerated, justice advocates and members of the American Civil Liberties Union spoke in favor of the bill during a public hearing.

Landlords and some tenants spoke against the bill, saying that it would mean property owners have less ability to ensure a safe environment for their renters, that it could mean higher liability risk, and that it infringes on landlords’ rights.

House Bill 5156 would require that landlords give tenants at least 60 days notice ahead of rental increases. If they don’t issue the notice in time and raise rents, they would be prohibited from issuing a notice to quit if tenants refuse to pay.


Legislative sessions in the past couple of years have focused on ways to rethink the landlord-tenant relationship. Housing experts have identified an imbalance of power in the relationship, saying that it can be hard for tenants to push back against bad housing conditions or excessive rent increases because of the fear of eviction.

The state has seen a growing tenants union movement that has helped to organize tenants.

Thursday’s debate also occurs in the midst of a worsening national housing crisis. In Connecticut, rents and rates of homelessness have been rising. Apartment vacancy rates are low.

The state lacks about 92,500 units of housing that are affordable and available to its lowest-income renters, according to recent estimates.

Sampson also questioned the veracity of claims that there is a housing crisis, saying that he has available units, including one that has been on the market for three weeks.

The housing crisis has been thoroughly researched by many groups and housing experts.

“The only evidence that I have that there is a housing shortage is a lot of rhetoric and news reports and occasionally, when I do list a rental, I get a little bit more activity than I have in the past,” Sampson said.

Sampson, one of the more conservative members of the Republican caucus, said he doesn’t want the government interfering in private contracts. He fears the bills violate property rights.

“I also think this is somewhat un-American because I think it does go against our free market principles and instead imposes authoritarian rule that eliminates freedom of choice,” he said.

Other Republicans also spoke against the bills, and the House Republicans issued statements at the close of the meeting Thursday night.

“A lease is a contract, agreed to by both the landlord and the tenant, and each party knows there is a set end date,” said ranking member Rep. Tony Scott, R-Monroe, in a statement. “The government shouldn’t be interfering with this basic business function.”

Co-chair Rep. Antonio Felipe, D-Bridgeport, spoke in favor of the criminal record bill Thursday.

“These are people like everybody else, and we’re all different,” Felipe said. “We all have different varying levels of education, and the way that we look at recidivism also needs to be brought into a different lens.”

He said that recidivism can often be reduced with job opportunities, housing, mental health support systems and education. Research has tied a high risk of reoffending to a lack of housing stability.

“So while we move forward, I just hope that we treat people fairly and equitably,” Felipe said.

Scott said he was concerned about how the criminal record law would be enforced.

“There’s always a lot of work to do,” Felipe said near the close of Thursday’s meeting. “We’re going to disagree on the various things that we need to do.”

The bills next head to either the House or Senate floors.

This story was originally published by The Connecticut Mirror Feb. 29, 2024.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.