Alicia Christin Gerald

Dorsey Walker plans to bring tenant bill back again

Sam Haut Government, Headlines

Alicia Christin Gerald

Tenant bill will try to pass the Housing Committee once again.

Maybe the third time will be the charm for a proposed bill that would allow tenants to refuse to pay rent when necessary repairs are not being done by a landlord.

House Bill 37, sponsored by Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington, would force landlords to fix issues with a rental unit, including a lack of heat, water, electricity, sewage disposal, structural defects, fire hazards or the presence of lead paint.

If landlords fail to address those issues in a timely manner or properly correct them, tenants would then have the right to put their rent in an escrow account, rather than pay the landlord, and get the courts involved who would have to sort out the problem. 

It’s come up twice in committee and hasn’t been voted out to the House ready list.

Dorsey Walker said Tuesday at The Warehouse ribbon cutting for its RISE Center, that she plans to bring her tenant bill back to the House Housing Committee after making some changes.


Rep. Dorsey Walker

One of the suggestions in the bill is that tenants would not pay the landlord directly when waiting for repairs, but would still pay rent into an escrow account overseen by a government agency.

“There are some individuals in the community who are not as pleased with an escrow account,” Dorsey Walker said. “But I’m willing to work with them to ensure that we get a bill where everyone can be comfortable with.”

That bill failed last week to get enough signatures from the House Housing Committee. It previously missed being approved by one vote during a Jan. 17 hearing.

Related Story: Tenant right to lawyers bill held for changes by committee

At the April hearing, HB 37 met resistance from both Republican representatives and the Delaware Apartment Association.

Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman, R-Townsend/Hartley, said he was concerned because he believes that dishonest people could use the bill to stop paying rent for whatever reason.

Scott Kidner, a representative of the Delaware Apartment Association, said that the bill is not yet ready because it doesn’t address the issue of what the tenant would do if the government condemns the building.

While there was opposition to the bill, it did see some support during the hearing, including from the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League and the Delaware NAACP.

House Bill 37 is sponsored by Dorsey Walker and three other Democrats.

In the fiscal note for the bill, it estimates that the bill cost $287,213 for the 2024 fiscal year, $549,746 for the 2025 fiscal year, and $560,721 for the 2026 fiscal year.

Dorsey Walker said any changes will “maintain the integrity of the bill and ensure our constituents are protected while also listening to the landlords.” She didn’t get any more specific.

At that same committee hearing, Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 1, which would give tenants the right to a lawyer, received five favorable votes, one vote on its merits, and one no vote. 

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, Senate Substitute 1 would set up a system under which tenants whose income is below 200% of the federal poverty line would have a right to an attorney when dealing with eviction proceedings.

It has some exceptions: tenants would not have a right to a lawyer if their landlord has three or less properties, if there is a conflict of interest between the tenant and the chosen firm, or if the firm declines to represent the landlord for one of several reasons such as the tenant not comply with the representation process, the rules of professional conduct warning are withdrawn, or the firm thinks the tenants case won’t succeed.

That bill’s fiscal note estimates it will cost the state $1,293,909 for the 2024 fiscal year, $2,312,765 for the 2025 fiscal year, and $3,928,912 for the 2026 fiscal year.

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