The Rental Crisis Will Not Be Televised: The Case for Protecting Tenants Under Consumer Protection Regimes

The Foreclosure Crisis of the 2000s has likely hurt renters more than homeowners. Incongruously, however, consumer enforcement agencies have been far more zealous in protecting mortgagors than tenants. This Article explores the under-protection of tenants as a class of consumers, particularly in a “commoditized” rental market, and examines how consumer enforcement agencies can more zealously incorporate tenant-protection into their mandates.

Much of the prior literature on the legal protections afforded tenants was published in the wake of the consumer rights revolution of the 1970s. This Article is the first to carefully reexamine, in the context of the modern rental market, whether tenants should be protected as consumers and whether tenants have truly reaped the benefits of consumer gains over the last half-century. The Article analyzes original interviews with state consumer protection agencies, engages in the first broad survey of state and federal tenant protection enforcement actions, and provides a new review of the caselaw addressing whether tenants are covered by consumer protection regimes.

Concluding that achieving systemic change through broad-scale policing of the rental industry is both vital and often overlooked, the Article proposes specific reforms that consumer protection agencies can adopt to better protect tenants.