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SB242: How bad bills die

Alabama Arise campaigned against SB242 primarily through grassroots phone calls to legislators.


Since Alabama passed the Uniform and Residential Landlord and Tenant Act in 2006, most every session has included efforts to tweak it. At least five passed and six reforms were signed into law. Some changes are minor or non-objectionable — such as requiring updated smoke alarms — but some are tilted to benefit landlords — such as allowing quicker eviction notice. 

In the 2023 legislative session, Sen. Keith Kelley, R-Talladega, introduced Senate Bill 242 to remove a provision in the Act prohibits landlords from charging more than one month’s rent as a security deposit. The bill would have removed the limit entirely, allowing deposit amounts to be set by market forces. 

Kelley framed the bill as a benefit to those with low credit struggling to find housing. If landlords could charge high security deposits, then they can afford to bet on riskier tenants. With a competitive rental market, some tenants may only be able to secure a lease if it comes with a higher buy-in.

“What you have, especially in this day and time, you have a lot of young people and people that have messed their credit up, and so they get a little further in life and they start to get their act together and get that credit straightened out but haven’t quite got it. It’s a tight market out there, so many times they might not qualify for credit, but they’ve showed a pattern there,” Kelley said. “So what this does is allow the landlord, should they choose to, to collect more.” 

The bill appeared to most opponents as an egregious empowerment of predatory renting. The provision in the Act limits security deposits to aid the tenant. Deposits are deposits because they are supposed to be reasonably returned, but in more common event they are not, it’s only one month’s loss.

“Given the fact that a lot of landlords are already pretty unscrupulous about returning deposits that are owed to renters, it’s just a problem that didn’t need to exist,” Dev Wakeley, worker policy advocate for Alabama Arise said. “What we see right now with the rental market is landlords who are already plenty safe and are pulling in very good margins as things exist. And I think that if you’re looking for housing policy improvements, you don’t necessarily look to make things easier on people who are already doing all right, and that’s what we’re dealing with in Alabama with landlords. The system is pretty well stacked in landlords’ favor.”

Alabama Arise is probably the most significant poverty-focused advocacy group in Alabama, with over 150 affiliated organizations and an annual revenue well over $1 million. They conduct policy analysis and organize for their legislative agenda. According to Wakeley, Alabama Arise campaigned against SB242 primarily through grassroots phone calls to legislators informed ans secondarily through direct action at the State House. 

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“Instead of trying to make things even more friendly toward money, corporate interests, what we should do is actually address the human beings and use the policy levers of the state to make concrete improvements for people’s lives. More than anything else, we should do that by talking to people and finding out what they actually need instead of just making laws that affect people without actually engaging with them on what would help their lives,” Wakeley said.

SB242 failed. On May 31, without mention on the Senate floor, it quietly received an indefinite postponement — a procedural method very effective at shutting down unwanted motions for the remainder of the session. Since it was postponed instead of voted down, the bill did not die until the legislature adjourned sine die. A future legislative session may still choose to consider the security deposit limit.

Samuel Stettheimer is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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