Proposed landlord-tenant law changes softened in Alabama Senate committee

A state Senate committee somewhat softened a set of proposed changes to Alabama’s landlord-tenant law Thursday. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved a substitute version of SB 291, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. The bill now goes to the full Senate.

Marsh’s original bill would have rewritten numerous parts of the state’s 2006 landlord-tenant law in favor of property owners. The committee’s changes would substantially reduce the bill’s impact on the half-million Alabamians who rent their lodgings.

The two biggest changes involve giving renters a second chance to correct mistakes before landlords can seek to evict them. Marsh’s original proposal offered tenants no right to correct, or “cure,” problems cited as a lease violation unless the landlord gave express written consent. The committee substitute would ease this “zero tolerance” provision by giving renters two chances within a 12-month period to correct such problems.

Marsh’s original bill also said any termination of electrical service to the dwelling would constitute legal abandonment of the property and allow landlords to evict tenants. The committee version would require electrical service to be disconnected for a full week before the property could be considered abandoned.

Other parts of the bill remained unchanged, however, including several portions that would adjust deadlines in favor of landlords. For example, a landlord now has 35 days to refund a tenant’s security deposit or give notice of why they are keeping all or part of the deposit. SB 291 would nearly double that time to 60 days.

Current law requires landlords to provide tenants with a 14-day written notice if they plan to terminate the lease over a violation that does not involve failure to pay rent. SB 291 would halve that timeframe to seven days. Marsh’s original bill would have cut the notice period to terminate over failure to pay rent down to four days, but it would remain at the current seven days under the committee version.

HB 523, sponsored by Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, is an identical House bill that reflects the Senate committee’s changes. That measure awaits consideration in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee. Lawmakers will return Tuesday for the 17th of 30 allowable meeting days during the 2014 regular session, which is expected to last until early April.

By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted Feb. 21, 2014.