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#STATEOF208: Rental application fees now subject to regulations in Boise

Posted: 9:55 PM, Dec 17, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-18 14:56:00-05

BOISE, Idaho — An ordinance spearheaded by Councilmember Lisa Sánchez was approved Tuesday, adding restrictions to how much a landlord can charge a prospective renter who is applying for a place to rent in the city of Boise. It goes into effect on Saturday.

"We're really optimistic about that," said Stephanie Day, executive director, CATCH Housing Program.

Sánchez says this was a dream she had for about a year.

"What we were hearing was, these rental application fees were out of control, and they were making it so these folks who needed to find a place were depleting their funds," said Sánchez.

Boise city officials and housing providers said regulations will add transparency and trust between prospective tenant and landlord, and help to reduce homelessness.

"We probably saw someone in here once a week that was experiencing high volumes of amounts of money being requested for application fees and oftentimes some somewhat shady dealings," said Day.

One landlord we spoke to told us she worries this could result in owners being driven away from Boise.

"The ones that are gonna have to come up with that extra cost are the people who provide the affordable housing -- so my fear is they would pick up those extra investments and go to another state where they wouldn't have to deal with that," said Cassandra Swanson, landlord, Paramount Property Management.

She says background checks and other added fees can sometimes add up to more than $30, meaning smaller companies like hers will be negatively impacted.

"Our charge right now is 39.99," said Swanson.

But Day says -- then maybe, property managers should change up their method of screening.

"I feel like the idea that you can find a good tenant using a background check is a flawed idea in the first place. We serve a lot of households that have criminal histories, and bad credit, and medical bills and things like that, and getting them into housing, who are fantastic tenants," said Day.

Sánchez agrees.

"If they feel that they need to do that to ensure that, then they should put a little money into that -- put some skin in the game. But if you have only a few properties, then it shouldn't be that hard for you to get to know your potential -- your prospective -- tenants," said Sánchez.

Sánchez added that this could increase safety for what Day says is the biggest group currently in need of housing -- that is -- domestic violence survivors.

"That could have dangerous consequences for women and children who are trying to escape domestic violence situations... so when you actually start thinking through who are the most vulnerable members of our community, I would say it's those folks," said Sánchez.

They did make a change to the writing of the ordinance; they made it so that if you do not charge application fees, the regulations will not apply to you.

Sánchez said they will revisit the application fee ordinance in a few months time and -- if necessary -- make any appropriate changes they feel will improve the ordinance.