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Why Tenant Protection Programs Depend on Rental Registries

Scott McGill | September 14, 2021

4 Minute Read

Every community member deserves a safe, affordable place to live, and robust tenant protection programs are key to making that vision a reality. Smart measures like rent stabilization, affordable housing minimums, and just cause eviction are some of the most powerful tools local officials have to protect renters and curb the housing affordability crisis in their communities.

But protections like these only benefit renters when they can be implemented effectively and lacking real-time data about a community’s housing inventory can seriously hamper those efforts. After all, it’s tough to regulate what you can’t see, and too many local officials are administering housing programs and enforcing ordinances without a comprehensive picture of where tenants live and what issues they’re facing.

Keeping an accurate, up-to-date, and complete database of all rental units is the first step in building a safety net for renters. Rental registries not only serve as the backbone of effective tenant protections, they allow city officials and housing program managers to streamline inspections, spot emerging trends like gentrification and displacement, and maintain an open line of communication with both tenants and landlords.

What is a rental registry?

A rental registry is a database with information about every rental unit in a community. In cities with registries, landlords must register their properties with a local government agency and provide information such as how many units they’re renting, how much they’re charging for rent, changes in tenant status, and other data. Property owners must also submit their contact information, so that city officials can easily get in touch in case of an emergency.

To create a registry, local governments first need to pass an ordinance requiring landlords to register their properties, along with some deterrent against not registering. For example, landlords in Syracuse, New York are prohibited from collecting rent or evicting tenants from unregistered units. Other cities have imposed fines for unregistered rental properties.

In addition to the ordinance, local governments need a software solution to power the registry system, both for property owners who need to submit information about their units, and for city workers who need to view and manage the registry. Top-notch rental registry software should not only offer database functionality. It should include case management, workflow automation, a portal for online payments of fees, fines, and taxes, and analytics tools that put vital insights about a community’s housing inventory at the fingertips of city officials and program managers.

Rental registries already exist in cities like Seattle, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Raleigh. Eight cities in California and at least 20 in Texas also have rental registration requirements. Unfortunately, many localities don’t yet have a registry system in place. Of those that do, many rely on outdated software with limited utility and a low-quality user experience for property owners and city employees alike.

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Rental registries for housing inspections

Effective housing code enforcement can not only prevent blight, it can be life-saving for renters. A complete rental database allows city workers to thoroughly inspect their community’s rental properties for structural problems, fire hazards, toxic mold, and other safety concerns, without letting any units fall through the cracks.

Without an accurate inventory of rental properties and units, it can be difficult to ensure properties are being inspected as often as they should. Rental registries allow inspectors to easily see the full scope of their work and track what’s been inspected and when. And since rental registries include owner and manager contact information, scheduling inspections and following up after the fact is much easier too.

When inspections are simpler and more efficient to complete, it improves code enforcement and compliance. That results in less risk of tenants living in unsafe conditions and less blight with fewer properties falling into disrepair.

Rental registries and affordable housing

As rents rise and incomes stagnate, local governments are finding creative ways to keep housing affordable. Policies like rent control and rent stabilization can keep housing within reach for low and middle-income tenants, but only if those laws are supported by an effective rental registry system. Having a database with the going rent for every unit in a community lets program managers keep an eye on housing prices across neighborhoods, and on any sharp spikes in rent that may be out-of-line with local ordinances.

Pairing a rental registry with Rent Stabilization Management software allows local governments to easily update the system as regulations shift, and to see how well tenant protection program changes are working thanks to advanced reporting and analytics tools.

A rental registry also supports the preservation of existing affordable housing stock, allowing local leaders to spot trends earlier and make sound policy decisions that keep the supply of affordable units in line with the community’s needs.

How rental registries can fight homelessness

As the coronavirus pandemic has made clear, not having the information to reach tenants and monitor landlords makes eviction prevention next to impossible. The national eviction moratorium was only effective insofar as it could be enforced, and widespread reports of renters leaving their homes without asserting their legal rights, or getting legal support from local authorities, indicates that enforcement was lacking.

Even in normal times, managing evictions can be a headache without appropriate systems in place, requiring a fair amount of paperwork and lengthy processes to ensure both renters’ and property owners’ rights are protected. Rental registries are the foundation of any well-run eviction management system.

They can also be essential for reaching renters in case of an emergency; while the federal government has set aside $45 billion to help renters avoid eviction during the pandemic, just 6.5 percent of that money has been distributed so far. That’s largely because many local governments still don’t have registries in place to identify distressed tenants and make the aid available to them.


“One of the things that this pandemic has made very clear is that there’s a lot that we don’t know about our housing market,” Vincent Reina, director of the Housing Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, told Vox in May. “The vast majority of cities don’t have full registries of every owner in their city. ... It shows we often don’t know who owns properties and what’s going on with these properties, or which tenants are experiencing financial hardship.”

If registries had been more widespread during the federal eviction moratorium, it’s likely that local leaders could have kept a closer eye on illegal evictions and tenants in need of assistance, helping more renters avoid homelessness during a public health crisis.

Rental registries protect tenants

Affordable housing requirements, rent stabilization, and eviction regulations are all important tools for local governments working to keep renters safe and housed in an increasingly unaffordable market. But these measures only achieve their goals when they can be enforced, and effective enforcement starts with a rental registry.

Pairing a rental registry ordinance with powerful, easy-to-use registry software is the best way for local leaders to keep track of where renters are living, what issues they’re facing, and how well programs are working on the ground. To learn more about how rental registry software can support meaningful tenant protection programs in your community, get your copy of our free guide here.

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