House evaluates rent stabilization bill amid hikes
By The Star Staff
Increasing prices for rent, instead of gas, are hitting families hard in Puerto Rico. For that reason, Citizen Victory Movement Rep. Mariana Nogales Molinelli has introduced legislation in the island House of Representatives that would create the “Puerto Rico Rent Stabilization Act.”
The goal of House Bill 1242 is to establish the government’s public policy regarding protection against excessive increases in the cost of rent, protect the right to affordable housing and reduce the effects of gentrification on the island.
“Every person has the right to an adequate standard of living that ensures health and well being for himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services,” the bill states, quoting the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to a recent study published by USA Today, the cost of rent is increasing because of high demand as homebuyers are priced out amid rising interest rates and home prices. Other reasons for the cost of rent are low inventory, landlords making up for lost rent during pandemic-related rent moratoriums, and higher maintenance costs as inflation jumps.
The legislation would ban increases in the cost of rent during the first year of the lease.
The maximum increase allowed after the first year would be calculated considering inflation compared to the average for the previous year, according to the most recent data from the Official Consumer Price Index of Puerto Rico. The tenant would have to be notified of any increase 90 days before it becomes effective.
The bill also limits evictions, which would have to be for the just causes established in the proposed law.
Those causes include non-compliance with the lease payment, major annoyances, or any illegal behavior carried out by the tenant that substantially affects the tranquility or quality of life of the owner and the neighborhood.
Another just cause for evicting a tenant is when the property owner must make substantial repairs or construction to the rental unit due to damages attributable to the tenant.
However, the bill states specific tenant’s rights with regard to a rental unit even if a tenant has been removed for remodeling or construction purposes.
If a tenant is evicted, the landlord is prohibited from increasing the rent to the next tenant.
The bill would also create the Puerto Rico Rental Price Registry, which would be attached to the island Housing Department, to gather information on rental prices in Puerto Rico, their increases, and notifications.
Opponents of the bill said it is unnecessary because most lease clauses already contain terms banning rent hikes while the lease is in effect.
Housing Assistant Secretary Maytte Texidor López argued that the measure currently in hearings in the House of Representatives may be unconstitutional because it violates property rights.
She also said it “violates the clause that prevents the approval of laws that undermine contractual obligations.” The official noted that, according to the interpretation of the agency she represents, the measure does not have a “legitimate purpose or interest” to support altering the current constitutional statute.
“The statement of reasons for the measure under analysis does not justify, with factual data, the implementation of measures that would limit the right to enjoy private property and undermine current contracts,” Texidor López said. “Furthermore, the explanatory statement does not provide data on the correlation between the cases of eviction and the increase in rents.”