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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2006
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New law aims to protect renters
State requires landlords to provide safe, habitable housing to tenants

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Starting Jan. 1, Alabama will have a law to protect renters like Teleata Gardner of Huntsville, who couldn't get her landlord to fix her leaking roof and clean up the black mold caused by the moisture.

"We all got sick from the mold," Gardner said Thursday.

In March, the Legislature passed a law that, for the first time in Alabama, spelled out the rights of landlords and the tenants of the 500,000 rental houses and apartments throughout the state.

The law, which takes effect on New Year's Day, requires landlords to provide safe, habitable housing, and it allows the landlords to evict bad tenants quicker than in the past.

"We are not under any illusion this law is going to end substandard housing in Alabama," said Kimble Forrister, state coordinator for Alabama Arise. But he said the new law will level the playing field for renters, who had virtually no legal protections in the past.

Greg Masood, director of government affairs for the Alabama Association of Realtors, said the law also helps landlords because it pre-empts city and county ordinances and standardizes eviction procedures that had varied from county to county.

Alabama Arise, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, and Legal Services Alabama are distributing brochures that summarize the new law for renters. Brochures are also available by calling (334) 832-9060 or on the Web (www.arisecitizens.org).

Alabama Arise, a lobbying group for the poor, worked on getting a law passed for 13 years because Alabama was the only state without minimal protections for renters, Forrister said.

Gardner, a 45-year-old employee of the Huntsville Rehabilitation Center, wishes they had succeeded sooner.

In 2004, she rented a small home in Huntsville for $495 per month. She said it had fresh paint and looked OK when she moved in with her daughter.

But when she went to cook her first meal, she realized only one eye on the stove worked. The roof soon began to leak, causing black mold to grow in a closet and the bathroom. She complained to her landlord, but she said nothing got repaired.

"I told him I wasn't going to give him any more rent until he fixed the problems. He said he would put me up for eviction," she said.

The landlord did just that when she refused to pay, but he didn't show up for the court hearing.

"I went on and found me somewhere else to live," she said in a telephone interview.

Forrister said Alabama's old housing laws were so stacked in favor of the landlords that renters who moved out over uninhabitable conditions could be forced to pay the rent remaining on their leases.

John Pickens, executive director of the Appleseed Center, said the new law is in line with what most other states have done.

Rentersí law highlights

Highlights of Alabamaís new landlord-tenant law, which takes effect Jan. 1:

  • Requires landlords to make sure rental property is habitable, with working heat, electricity and water.

  • Allows a tenant to break a lease after 14 daysí notice when a landlord doesnít correct a major health and safety problem, such as a heating system not working.

  • Allows a landlord to break a lease with seven daysí notice for not paying the rent and with 14 daysí notice for other lease violations.

  • Standardizes eviction procedures throughout the state.

  • Speeds up the eviction process for landlords by giving cases priority in district court.

  • Provides that security deposits canít be more than one monthís rent, with the exception of additional risk-related charges, such as pet deposits.

  • Requires landlords to return security deposits within 35 days after a lease ends or provide an accounting of why money was taken out of the deposit for repairs.

  • Says landlords must give two daysí written notice before entering rental property, except in an emergency.

  • Says landlords are under no obligation to pay interest on security deposits.

  • Requires tenants to notify their landlords when they are going to be away for two weeks or longer.

  • Requires landlords to provide a garbage receptacle and requires tenants to dispose of their garbage properly.

    - The Associated Press

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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