Legislators, activists push for statewide adoption of URLTA

By Nicole Ares

Hunter Boyd, an undergraduate student at Western Kentucky University, found his current apartment on Craigslist. After transferring from the University of Kentucky mid-semester, he felt lucky to find an apartment with a six-month lease in Bowling Green.

However, when Boyd tried to get out of his lease after six-months of residency, he was denied.

On the front page of the lease it says his term of tenancy was from Jan. 14, 2015 to July 31, 2015. But on the fourth page in a small writing, it says the lease automatically renews unless the tenant gives 30-days notice prior to the lease ending.

“I guess it was there, but it was very deceptive,” Boyd said. “It should’ve been on the first page under the dates of the lease. Now I’m stuck.”

To protect the basic rights of tenants and landlords, the Kentucky state legislature passed a law called the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URLTA) in 1974. However, in 1979 the Kentucky Supreme Court rendered URLTA unconstitutional.

The court ruled URLTA either must be a statewide law or individual counties and cities can choose to opt-in to the URLTA system. In 1984, Kentucky state legislature chose the latter.

Since then, only 19 communities that have chosen to opt-in, and Bowling Green is the largest city in the state that has not adopted URLTA.

“If we adopted it uniformly across the state, then that would improve the housing situation in the broadest way that we can,” said Dana Beasley-Brown, chairperson of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) an organization that supports URLTA.

A modification to the current bill will be proposed in the 2016 session and would protect tenants from unfair evictions, substandard housing conditions and other basic rights.

“When it comes to balancing the property rights of a landlord, the privacy rights of a tenant and the basic habitability standards for all Kentuckians, that is a state issue,” said Jay Todd Richey, founder and chair of the WKU Student Coalition for Renters’ Rights.

KFTC has paired with SCRR, among others, to support this bill that will make URLTA mandatory statewide.

There is currently a sponsor and two co-sponsors on the bill: Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Jefferson, Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Warren and Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Jefferson, respectively.

“If you can organize renters, landlords and legislators together, you’re going to win,” Richey said.

Richey also believes there are two main reasons URLTA hasn’t been adopted statewide yet: misunderstandings and misconceptions about what URLTA does, and influential people not wanting to give up their power.

“People automatically assume that because we favor renters’ rights, we want to completely do away with landlords,” he said. “Most landlords are great; it’s the slumlords we are going after.”

In places with URLTA, a landlord must give its tenant at 48-hour notice before he or she comes into an apartment. In places without URLTA, the landlord doesn’t have to give its tenant any notice at all.

“One of the biggest humans rights complaints that people call in to our local humans rights commission are women frightened because her landlord is coming into her apartment when she’s alone,” Beasley-Brown said.

However, Ali Pittman, property manager of the Columns apartments in Bowling Green, believes her tenants do not mind when she comes into their apartments.

“All of our residents make it clear that ‘yes you can come in whenever you’d like’ or ‘no I would like notice’ and we try to follow that,” she said.

Pittman noted, however, the statewide adoption of URLTA could be beneficial to both tenants and landlords.

“In Bowling Green there are a lot of international students, and a lot of times leases aren’t clear to them because it’s in English,” she said. “It would be really cool if all the leases were the same because it would eliminate confusion.”

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