A house for rent in the South End of Hartford Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CtMirror.org
A house for rent in the South End of Hartford. Lawmakers in Hartford are considering legislation that would allow landlords to require more than two months rent for security deposits. Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CtMirror.org

To understand the philosophical tug-of-war over how to make more affordable rental housing available to Connecticut residents, one need look no further than a recent exchange between two state lawmakers who also happen to be landlords.

The exchange took place during a recent public hearing of the Housing Committee, which was  hearing testimony on a bill that would allow landlords to ask for larger security deposits. Currently, landlords are not allowed to ask for more than two months rent.

Sen. Rob Sampson, a Wolcott Republican who launched the legislature’s Conservative Caucus and is the proponent of the bill, was there to lobby the committee to scrap the current law.

Democratic Rep. Brandon McGee – co-chairman of the Housing Committee and leader of the legislature’s Black & Puerto Rican Caucus – began pressing Sampson to explain why the law should be changed.

“It’s a private contract and it should be determined by market forces,” Sampson responded. “That is America. That is what was envisioned by our founders. It is what made this country great and amazing: to give each of us the opportunity to live fulfilling lives.”

McGee wasn’t buying it.

“I’ve got to tell you, America has not always been too kind to many people. And as a black man, it has not been too kind to me,” McGee said. “So what I am getting at is… ”

Before he could finish, Sampson interrupted to ask, “What does that have to do with any of this?”

“It has everything to do with it,” McGee shot back.

At issue is whether state laws aimed at helping provide low-income residents access to housing – such as the one that caps how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit – are helping or hurting.

Connecticut has among the most expensive rental housing in the country and one of the highest rates of residents who spend more than half their income on rental housing. In the Fairfield County area, for example, 30% of renters are spending more than half their income on housing, while in the New Haven and Hartford areas, one-quarter of residents are, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Sampson believes such measures are stifling opportunities because a landlord cannot agree to take a larger deposit from someone with bad credit to offset that increased risk. McGee believes such allowances will lead to discrimination – certain people could be asked to put more down – or put housing out of reach for those who can’t afford more than two-months rent.

“It’s a matter of us both understanding different perspectives when it comes to housing discrimination,” McGee said. “If we didn’t need rules, people would be all peachy keen and everything would be great. … We can definitely agree to disagree. I am a landlord just like you, and I appreciate your perspective.”

Sampson seemed unmoved, responding, “My position is contained in the Declaration of Independence.”

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Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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  1. Why is it 2 months? Why not zero, why not 6, why not 12 months? Isn’t it really up to the person who owns the property to set the terms of their rental agreement? If those terms are too burdensome for the market then no one will rent them. If these homes were owned by the state and were designated as affordable housing and availing of rent guarantees and section 8 payments then I would understand the argument but that is not the case here.

    In fact let’s pretend it was 6 months at market rate, that still does not guarantee that any payments will be made after 6 months if the renter intends to squat on the property after 6 months and force eviction through the court system – that can take another 12 months! There are no guarantees in either case, so why is government involved in LAWFUL private contracts between two CONSENTING private parties?

    Please excuse my ignorance, I do not own any rental properties but if government is involved in this then what about any other private contract that requires a leap of faith? Is government guaranteeing a contracts income stream? No. So the risk is still 100% on the landlord not the renter, as it should be, what value does government bring to this transaction, excluding the judicial branch in case the terms of the agreement are broken?

    1. That’s an interesting point. I always thought that 1.5 or 2 months security was just some kind of industry standard – I never realized that it was a legal maximum.
      But if there is a max on the security deposit, then there should be a corresponding limit of how long the eviction process takes. I’ve never been involved in it, but based on my legal knowledge (i.e. watching Judge Judy), the eviction process is painfully slow and lasts significantly more than 2 months. While it gives the tenant certain protections (as it should), it shouldn’t be so long as to screw the landlord.

      1. Great point. In addition, the overall cost to the landlord is significantly higher if the person living there has no intention of getting their security deposit back. For example, if they intend to just stay there through eviction 6 – 12 months “rent free” they are coming out way ahead. For example, if you can’t pay your mortgage you risk your equity in the property with the bank if you cant sell the home for enough and banks usually unload their foreclosed properties. Should the state also step in and tell the bank – sorry you can’t foreclose on that property even though the bank technically owns it. Seriously when does it end?

  2. Wouldn’t it depend also on the degree of risk in time and cost to the landlord? I would think the more protective the eviction laws to the tenant in terms of longer time (months) and higher cost to the landlord to remove, the higher security deposit the landlord would require.

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