Law professors, organizers discuss New Mexico tenant rights

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – When it comes to the apartments already built, some of them have problems.

Viewers from all over the metro message our newsroom daily, saying they’re living through this heat wave without air conditioning because their landlords won’t fix their units.

New Mexico state law is landlords are required to keep appliances like air conditioning in working order if it comes with the apartment. If they can’t do that tenants are entitled to withhold part of their rent.

But many renters are hesitant to take a stand against their landlords.

Law professors from UNM say that’s because landlords have a lot of power right now. But, they added tenants also have power in numbers.

“If you were to find a landlord, who said, ‘Oh, the AC hasn’t been working, so we’re going to reduce everybody’s rent,’ no questions asked, that’s a news story for you,” said UNM Law Professor Serge Martinez. 

Martinez says it’s not often tenants take a stand against their landlords and win.

“I’ve seen it happen, but it is, it’s the exception rather than the rule,” said Martinez. 

New Mexico state law allows renters to challenge their landlords if they don’t provide a safe and healthy living space. It also says landlords are not allowed to retaliate against those renters, but martinez says that’s not what really happens.

“The landlords say, ‘If you abate your rent, I’m going to sue you for nonpayment of rent, and we’re going to work this out in court.’ Right? And that is a pretty effective threat. People don’t want to deal with the legal system, people don’t want to be under threat of eviction,” Martinez said.  

With the ongoing housing shortage, UNM Law Professor Allyson Freedman says many renters know there’s nowhere else to go.

“Tenants often end up walking away from the situation, and particularly, because they need to secure future housing,” said Freedman. 

She adds New Mexico’s tenant laws don’t protect renters enforcing their rights from having their leases terminated, that’s different from eviction. But she says there are other ways to force a landlord’s hand.

“Tenant organizing is a really awesome way for tenants to get together and sort of bring these issues to the forefront,” Freedman said.  

That’s exactly what organizers with the People’s Housing Project are doing in Albuquerque.

“In any apartment complex and especially the larger ones, you’ll usually find a community of tenants who have had it up to here with the lack of respect the lack of maintenance, a lack of responsiveness and so many other things,” said Bex Hampton, organizer of the People’s Housing Project. 

They say it usually only takes a group of three tenants to pressure landlords into making repairs, but more is always better.

“When it’s like 10 tenants coming to the landlord and putting them on notice, then typically we see a flurry of maintenance come and fix many, many issues,” said Hampton. 

They say the first step is always talking to your neighbors.

“Tenants don’t know how much power they have, until they really join with other tenants. There’s definitely power in numbers,” said Anna Lee Desaulnieres, a People’s Housing Project organizer.