Questionable lease agreements on the rise in Treasure Valley

housing market
Posted at 5:05 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 19:18:45-04

IDAHO — Increased housing demand can also mean an increase in scams or questionable lease agreements, putting vulnerable tenants in an even tougher spot.

Jesse Tree, an advocacy group working to prevent evictions and homelessness, case managers and legal interns noticed an increase in what they categorize as unethical and sometimes illegal clauses in lease agreements.

One tenant in the Treasure Valley says they have no option but to put up with harsh rental agreements.

“Well, the first two years, it went up about $100 each time. This last time when we renewed in March it went up by $700. So we went from $2,495 to now $3,300,” he said.

Idaho News 6 is not revealing the identity of the person to protect their privacy.

This is a story that seems too common in the Treasure Valley, massive rent increases, extra fees and more.

According to Jesse Tree Executive Director Ali Rabe, rent in the Treasure Valley has increased by 40% over the last couple of years. She says some tenants are even getting $350 to $500 rent increases on their leases. While there is no limit on how much landlords can increase rent, if a landlord does increase your rent by 10% of the monthly contract rent, they have to give you a month’s notice.

“Of the three or four methods that they give you to pay your rent, none of them are without a fee,” he added.

"We’ve definitely been seeing an uptick in the number of clauses that are illegal in lease agreements and also just quite a few practices that are unethical in nontransparent business practices,” Rabe said.

In other cases, illegal clauses or practices like landlords unilaterally evicting tenants.

“A self-help eviction is when a landlord tries to change the locks and take a tenant's property and shut off the utilities without going through the legal eviction court process. We’ve seen some clauses and leases that allow landlords to do that,” Rabe.

Related: Eviction, rental assistance resources available to Treasure Valley residents. Here's what to know.

But extra fees for late rent is one of the biggest problems Jesse Tree is seeing in the valley.

“We’ve seen late fees that are $500 the first time somebody is late or your $50 a day every time you’re late,” Rabe said. “When somebody doesn’t pay their rent, it’s usually because they can’t, they don’t have the funds and so late fees just compound the issue and create a lot of challenges for the people that we are serving.”

One tenant says he paid $6,000 in fees last year — due to commission-based work when he could pay rent was a toss-up — but he says he always paid it with no flexibility from his landlord and moving isn't an option.

“We have a large family, we need to have room for everybody and they are all more expensive so it doesn't improve my situation to move in fact it's prohibited,” he said.

Jesse Tree officials says, with a tight housing market, they believe some people feel obligated to sign a lease without looking it over.

“I know its really tough out there but I do really want to encourage tenants to make sure they know their rights, make sure they take pictures of the unit read the lease agreement and know what they are getting into,” Rabe said.