Journal of Law and Policy


Alex Ellefson


Millions of American renters live in substandard housing. Conditions in these homes not only affect individual renters’ quality of life, but in the aggregate create enormous burdens on public resources in the form of higher healthcare costs, demand for public benefits, and lower economic productivity. Furthermore, the legacy of racist housing policies in the United States has concentrated poor housing conditions in low-income communities of color. This Note argues that existing methods of housing code enforcement are inadequate. Instead, housing advocates should turn to an ancient remedy that has been used to prosecute fraud, labor violations, and even pirates: qui tam statutes. Qui tam statutes allow private parties to prosecute claims on behalf of the government and to collect a portion of the damages recovered. Currently, housing code enforcement relies on tenants to report code violations and to file suit when the landlord fails to correct conditions. A qui tam provision in the housing code would allow tenants to receive a percentage of the fines assessed against their landlord. Not only would this create stronger incentives for private parties to enforce the housing code, which promotes the public interest, it would also compensate tenants for the time and effort expended pursuing their right to a decent home.