Equalizing the Political Rights of Renters and Homeowners

32 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2018 Last revised: 25 Feb 2019

See all articles by Stephen Mortellaro

Stephen Mortellaro

The George Washington University Law School

Date Written: February 11, 2019


The promise of democracy has not been kept to renters. The First Amendment protects renters and homeowners alike from governmental speech suppression, but neither landlord-tenant law nor civil rights law secures renters’ political rights from landlord interference. Landlords wield enormous power to censor what renters say, limit who they say it with, and even control what they hear — and renters rarely have legal recourse when landlords choose to exercise this power.

This articles analyzes the diminished political rights of renters and proposes new legislation to put renters and homeowners on equal ground. Rather than importing wholesale from First Amendment doctrine or elevating “political ideology” to a protected status, legislatures should enact a Renters Bill of Political Rights that protects renters — and those who wish to speak to renters — from landlord retaliation for their political activities. This approach is the most compatible with existing landlord-tenant law and avoids being underinclusive and overinclusive in the rights it protects. Above all, it enables renters to participate in American democracy without fear that they will lose their home.

Keywords: renter, landlord, tenant, landlord-tenant, free speech, First Amendment, retaliation, eviction, vote, voting, voting rights, civil rights, housing, housing law, renters, rent, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of expression, political rights

Suggested Citation

Mortellaro, Stephen, Equalizing the Political Rights of Renters and Homeowners (February 11, 2019). Stephen E. Mortellaro, Equalizing the Political Rights of Renters and Homeowners, 34 Journal of Law and Politics 165 (2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3246723

Stephen Mortellaro (Contact Author)

The George Washington University Law School ( email )

Washington, DC
United States

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