A rental registry is a database of rental properties that includes detailed information about the property owner and the rental property. This rental registration system in its most basic form regularly requires property owners to provide up-to-date contact information of key individuals involved with the management and maintenance of the property, and an emergency contact who can be contacted 24 hours a day. Property owners may also be required to provide information and documentation regarding their last property inspection, the number of units owned, the occupation status of those units, and how much has been and is currently being charged for rent. Additional information can also be collected by localities to gather the important data needed to address a community’s unique housing challenges and inequities, such as a property’s connections to water and electricity, or monthly utility costs.
Currently, there is little to no comprehensive, timely data available to understand the housing conditions and experiences of renters across the country – despite 36 percent of all US households renting their homes, a number that has grown in the last 20 years. The lack of information on rental properties promotes a housing market of minimal oversight and can create conditions for deferred maintenance and tenant mistreatment that can severely affect the mental, physical, and financial well-being of renters. This lack of oversight, combined with the overall scarcity of homes affordable for low-income renters in most communities, creates a housing market in which property owners have excessive power over predominantly low-income, Black, and Brown renters with very few alternative affordable housing options.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for rental registries surged. Localities quickly recognized that they lacked the necessary infrastructure to deliver targeted emergency rental assistance needed by the 3.6 million renters at risk of eviction. Persistent concerns about rising rents paired with rising inflation have elevated national interest in improving supervision and monitoring of the rental market.
In addition to helping distribute social services and improve oversight, a rental registry can provide a host of benefits for a city or state such as:
- inform housing and community development policies
- help regulate a rental market
- identify households at risk of displacement (rent hikes or evictions)
- identify and address community health and safety concerns
- help facilitate community outreach
- Complement other surveys happening at the household level through coordinated efforts
- support social support services in and out of times of crisis
- be a critical organizing tool for tenants
- provide information on the rental ownership landscape
- help target community acquisition efforts
- mitigate growing speculative practices
See ChangeLab Solutions, the University of Texas Entrepreneurship and Development Clinic, the Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing, and the Center for Community Progress for additional resources on rental registries.