Tim Tai, Senior Photographer

A bill passed by the Connecticut State Senate is set to expand tenant protections throughout the state, affording renters more flexibility as they search for homes amid a nationwide housing shortage.

According to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, the bill — which was passed in June — is “one component” of several government policies aimed at addressing affordable housing. 

The omnibus bill, titled the Substitute Senate Bill No. 988, includes provisions that went into effect on Oct. 1. These provisions eliminate application fees for apartments, require landlords to more promptly return tenants’ security deposits, prohibit small landlords from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, increase landlord fines for housing code violations and set new limits on charging fees for overdue rent.

These limits will establish a short grace period during which landlords cannot charge tenants late fees. Landlords will also restrict late fees to one of the following two options: either up to $5 per day for a total of no more than $50, or up to 5 percent of the tenant’s share of overdue rent.

“[The way] to really aid the housing crisis in Connecticut, specifically in New Haven, would be more funding,” said Julianne Harwood ’26, a senior fellow working in the housing branch of Yale College Democrats. “We just need more housing.” 

City officials have said that these changes will alleviate pressure on prospective renters as they search for homes, particularly in light of ongoing shortages in the Connecticut housing market. The vacancy rate for rental units in Connecticut is currently at a record low, hovering around 2.1 percent as of last August, leaving few available units for potential renters. Shortage of available units has led rental rates to increase, making affordable housing across the state scarce. 

In an interview with the News, Elicker discussed the bill in the context of rising pressures within the state housing market. He said that landlords in New Haven often take advantage of rising rental rates by not properly maintaining apartments, knowing that it is increasingly difficult for tenants to move out and find alternative locations to live.

Elicker said that increased fines capped at $2,000 for violating housing codes may help “incentivize compliance” among landlords to decrease the number of housing code violations in the city. According to Elicker, the city’s housing court has been effective in enforcing penalties for housing code violations, but higher fines across the board, he said, serve as an “additional tool.”

According to Connecticut Public Radio, New Haven’s Livable City Initiative received nearly 6,000 housing code complaints between May 2022 and May 2023.

Elicker also said that other provisions of the bill, such as strengthening anti-discrimination laws and limiting additional fees, will also help alleviate potential burdens on tenants.

Co-Vice President of the Blake Street Tenants Union Mark Washington said that the bill is a “huge start” to helping potential tenants in New Haven find homes. 

“Application fees are a huge barrier for people already struggling to get by,” he said. 

Washington said that the bill’s elimination of these fees will assist renters in their search for affordable housing. He said that mega-landlords sometimes do not tell tenants why they were denied housing, leading tenants to be denied multiple times and paying various application fees without ever obtaining housing.

Several advocates in favor of the original bill discussed its influence on renters living in mobile homes. In a testimony supporting S.B. No. 988 in February, State Representative and bill sponsor Mary Mushinsky wrote that it would give mobile homeowners “equal rights as homeowners.” The bill, she added, will also set up a process for residents to collectively purchase mobile home parks with the help of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.

In her testimony, Mushinsky explained that investors and developers across the nation are buying out mobile home parks and consequently evicting elderly residents.

“I don’t see any other way for these residents to protect their homes if the Housing Committee and the legislature doesn’t pass SB 988,” Mushinsky wrote.

Other provisions of the bill, which will go into effect in 2024, will establish a class of individuals, including those with physical or intellectual disabilities, who are protected against certain evictions and rent increases. The bill will also require that the Connecticut Judicial Department remove online eviction records from cases that were withdrawn, dismissed or decided in favor of the tenant — which can make it more difficult for tenants to find new housing.

Elicker noted New Haven’s efforts to construct more affordable housing units and expand security deposit assistance programs as well as home ownership programs in New Haven.

“This is a great step forward, but it’s not a solution,” Harwood said.

Substitute Senate Bill No. 988 was passed on June 29, 2023.

Correction, Oct. 29: A previous version of this article had the word “provisions” instead of “revisions” in the subhead.

Natasha Khazzam covers housing and homelessness for city desk. She previously covered climate and the environment. Originally from Great Neck, New York, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history and English.
Kenisha Mahajan covers Cops & Courts for the City desk. She is a first-year in Benjamin Franklin College from Queens, New York majoring in ethics, politics and economics.