Some cities have entertained the idea of giving tenants the right of first refusal with their landlords so that they have the option to purchase their own home if their landlord decides they would like to sell the property. This is an OK start but is absolutely not enough. It is good that tenants are given the option to buy their own home rather than having it sold out from under them, but realistically how often will someone who is already being exploited be able to abruptly put together a down payment and get approved for a home loan? How does this look for people that live in apartments? Right of first refusal is far too limited in scope for tenants to be able to defend themselves.
Extension 1: Tenant Rights with Ownership Change
Tenants need to be included in negotations when there is a change of hands of their home. They should be informed on who is their potential new landlord and/or property management company and provided the opportunity to opt out of a lease exchange at the expense of either other party. This expense should include funds to cover moving costs and other costs that the tenant incurs as a result of the purchase of their home (wages lost, etc).
Extension 2: Purchase on Demand
Tenants should also be given the right to purchase their home out right after a socially acceptable period of time in the home (maybe a year?). This right should be extremely weighted towards the tenant - if the tenant offers to pay the appraised price the landlord should be obligated to sell ASAP. Going a step further, I’d argue that a down payment should be waived as well. If the socially acceptable time period has already passed then the tenant has done more than enough to prove to a mortgage provider that they can safely pay the mortgage, they’d been paying the mortgage for at least a year at that point already.
This gets complicated in apartment buildings or duplex situations, but the complexity of splitting up the deed into various units should be fully handled by the current owner. Maybe even those landlords with foresight will plan ahead and split up their multiunit buildings ahead of time, and, if not, they can sort it out as needed.
Tenant Bill of Rights
These rights should be included in a local tenant Bill of Rights. Kansas City, Missouri requires that the tenant Bill of Rights is included in signed leases, but I’d argue that the Bill of Rights should be included in all written communication between tenant and landlord. As a tenant it’s easy to forget what rights you do or don’t have if you haven’t looked at the Bill of Rights except on the day you sign your lease. Attaching this into all communications between the two parties may serve as a helpful reminder to keep the power imbalance a little more in check.
Tenants need to have stronger rights with respect to their homes. This should include not only Right of First Refusal but a Right of Movement Under Acquisition and a Right to Purchase at any time. Tenants that have lived in their home for some time have already proven their ability to pay for their mortgage and should be given a mortgage on request when they desire to own their own home.