Community members Rock for Renters’ Rights

Glasgow native Jay Todd Richey, left, founder and chairman of the WKU Student Coalition for Renters’ Rights, stands with Vice Chairwoman Kate McElroy of Bowling Green at the FFOYA House on Nov. 14 to raise awareness for renters’ rights in Bowling Green.

Emma Austin

Students, community members and local musicians came together on Nov. 14 for an event aiming to raise awareness of renters’ rights.

The event Rock for Renters’ Rights was hosted by the Southern Kentucky Chapter of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the Former Friends of Yound Americans or FFOYA House and the WKU Student Coalition for Renters’ Rights.

During the night, local bands played at the FFOYA House, and speakers addressed attendees between performances. There was a table set up with information about KFTC and other resources, including a handbook that gave an overview of what a renter should know before moving in.

“With KFTC, we’re looking to do community activism and make sure people know that there are issues they could get involved with,” said Aeryn Darst, a senior from Bowling Green and member of the WKU Student Coalition for Renters’ Rights.

The WKU Student Coalition for Renters’ Rights launched on campus at the beginning of the 2014 fall semester. Jay Todd Richey, a junior from Glasgow, is the founding chairman of the coalition.

“When I was a freshman, I wanted a way not only to be involved on campus but also off campus,” said Richey.

During his freshman year, Richey met with Dana Beasley-Brown, chairwoman of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and asked her what No. 1 issue was being faced by the Bowling Green community.

“She said it was the lack of adequate legal protection for renters,” said Richey. It was in response to this that Richey founded the WKU Student Coalition for Renters’ Rights.

Kate McElroy, a senior from Bowling Green and vice chairwoman of the coalition, said one of the goals of the coalition is to give students access to resources about renters’ rights.

“I’ve had a really good experience [as a renter] because I rent from someone who is URLTA compliant,” said McElroy. 

URLTA is the Uniform Residential Tenant Act of 1984. It was passed by the Kentucky General Assembly to set standards for the legal duties of landlords and tenants in their lease agreements.

Richey said because the law is not mandatory, there are still more than one hundred counties in Kentucky whose citizens do not have adequate legal protection.

“Bowling Green is the largest city in Kentucky that has not opted into URLTA,” said Richey. “The point of URLTA is to balance the property rights of the landlord with the privacy rights of the tenant.”

Richey added that the coalition is anti-slumlord, not anti-landlord. The goal is to eliminate housing situations that put tenants in danger because of a landlord’s refusal to accommodate the tenant’s needs. 

Although McElroy had a good experience with renting, she said being a part of the coalition opened her eyes to what could have happened and what other people go through.

“Part of what we do is taking a look at other people’s stories, and that’s what really grounds our work,” said McElroy.

Some of the situations McElroy has come across are landlords’ refusing to turn heat on in the winter and address bug infestations and stolen security deposits.

“We’ve had reports of female tenants stepping out of the shower to find their landlord in their living room,” said Richey.

URLTA addresses these problems by requiring the landlord to give at least a 48-hour notice before entering a tenant’s living space. Since Bowling Green has not adopted this policy, landlords can enter a tenant’s residence at any time if their lease agreement doesn’t specify otherwise.

The coalition has also heard reports of retaliatory evictions, which occur when a tenant is evicted simply for complaining to the landlord about his or her living situation.

URLTA establishes rights and responsibilities that cannot be infringed upon by either side — landlord or tenant. This means landlords have the responsibility to maintain and make sure rental spaces are safe. URLTA also requires tenants to pay rent on time.

“We have a bill in the Kentucky House of Representatives to amend URLTA and make it mandatory,” said Richey. 

The coalition puts on events like Rock for Renters’ Rights to raise awareness in Bowling Green.

“We need to ensure that no matter who you are or where you come from, you have a safe place to live,” Richey said.