Renters and landlords are equally critical of legislative proposals that would cap yearly rental increases for apartments and mobile home parks, with landlords arguing that the limits are too strict, and renters saying that they aren’t strict enough.
Nearly 400 people signed up to testify in Tuesday’s public hearing on both bills, which would cap yearly rent increases at four percent plus an adjustment based on inflation.
But Dave Delohery, the head of the Connecticut Manufactured Homeowners Association who lives in the Cedar Springs community in Southington, told CT Examiner that he considered the proposed bill, An Act Concerning Rent Stabilization in Mobile Manufactured Home Parks, to be “terrible in its current form.”
“The bill they sent out for consideration is not a serious effort to control rents. It’s just not,” Delohery said.
Sarah White, an attorney at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, said the four percent increase plus inflation right now would translate into rental increases of over 10 percent, which she said was “unaffordable” and “unnecessary.”
“The annual rent cap should be more in line with historic rent increases and inflation of around three percent, which is the $30 to $50 annual increase that many tenants expect and can budget for,” White said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Carmen Lanche, director of Comunidades Sin Fronteras, who lives in Norwalk, said that her organization wanted to see the yearly rent increase capped at 2.5 percent. She objected to the bill’s inclusion of an inflation adjustment — mainly, she said, because salaries were not increasing.
“We have many members of the organization that are being evicted because, from the $1,200 that they were paying before, the rent is increasing to $2,000,” Lanche told CT Examiner. “If they don’t have the money to pay, [the owners] are telling them they have to leave because there are going to be improvements made in the apartments – and that’s a lie. They just paint them and rent them for more money.”
Xiomara Fugon, a single mother of four children, who was recently evicted from her home in Bridgeport, said that when she went to court to fight the eviction, the mediator told her that the judge would never side with her over the landlord.
“I waited for a phone translator for two hours and they made me sign a document that I didn’t understand because everything was written in English,” Fugon, a member of the organization Make the Road CT, wrote in her testimony. She said that her children now have to work in order to help her pay the rent.
Tenants who spoke also talked about living in poor conditions. Ryan Sutherland, a medical student at Yale who leads the Madison Towers Tenant Union in New Haven, said that he knew students who struggled with maintenance issues — one friend lives in a building with black mold in the basement, he said, and another has spent two weeks without heat. Last week, he said, his own sink overflowed with sewage.
“Many students, like me, feel stuck. We pay what we are asked and put up with health hazards in our own homes because we are transient and we have limited agency to negotiate in a system in which we feel very much replaceable,” he said.
Attorney White, said that on February 14, there were 216 eviction filings — the highest number in a single day since 2017. She also said that during the pandemic, they saw a greater number of out-of-state corporations that purchased properties and then raised rents.
The trend of out-of-state corporation purchases is also affecting mobile home communities, like Cedar Springs and Beechwood in Killingworth, both of which were purchased by Sun Communities, a corporation that owns over 600 mobile home parks across the U.S.
But where tenants objected to what they saw as the bill being too lax, landlords pushed back against the potential restrictions, saying that the real solution, rather than capping rents, should be to invest in building more housing.
Sean DiZenzo, who owns five mobile home parks in Connecticut, wrote in his testimony that his expenses for the parks had risen more than his rental increases — he said that taxes in one of the towns had increased 40 percent over 15 years, while his rents had gone up 20 percent in that same time period. He also said that the cost of garbage services had nearly doubled over the last two years.
“Just like the state or towns that I do business in, improvements have to happen to the properties as far as infrastructure or whatever the case may be. That money has to come from the rental income,” he said.
Tyler Terrell, a landlord who owns eight units, said that he used to try to keep his rentals below market rate, but said he felt like he would not be able to do that if the legislators capped the amount he could increase rents. He said that in the past, he would lower rents for his tenants if they paid on time, but that the recent inflation had forced him to raise his rents.
“We’re also facing the increases in fuel, the increases in repairs, the increases in insurance, the increases in our taxes. So while it would be great to be able to cap these things at 3 percent, I don’t see how you can do that when there’s no cap on any of these other variables that affect us,” said Terrell.
John Souza, head of the Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners, said in written testimony that landlords would be incentivized to turn their properties into condos or redevelop rather than renting them.
Multiple legislators, Democrat and Republican, echoed the concern that legislation limiting rent increases could decrease the amount of housing in the market.
“My fear about this policy more than anything else is that it will end up in less affordable housing, rather than more,” said State Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott.