#STATEOF208: Boiseans debate application fee restrictions ordinance at public hearing

Posted at 10:32 PM, Oct 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-30 00:32:33-04

BOISE, Idaho — As the affordable housing crisis tightens its hold on Boise, one council member says more prospective renters are complaining of suspected misuse of application fees by landlords.

Now, the question becomes: protecting vulnerable renters, or protecting the liberties of property owners? This-- a main point of contention Tuesday in a hearing on a proposed ordinance that would add rules and restrictions to application fees for renters.

"In this case, I hope to see the little guy or the little gal get the help here, instead of the powerful people," said one Boisean who testified.

In an increasingly tight housing market with limited supply, some prospective renters are going broke before even getting into a unit.

"The news that we have heard from the constituents, is that in the process of trying to get a rental unit, they've come up against the barrier of very high application fees," said Boise City Council member Lisa Sánchez.

As we previously reported, experts say first-time homelessness is on the rise in Boise. And with her ordinance, Sánchez is now proposing this: "Structures that we would like to put in place to provide some protection to our renters," said Sánchez on Tuesday.

These are the proposed restrictions:

  • A disclosure of the screening process before a fee is taken
  • Landlords cannot not exceed the actual cost of the screening process or $30, whichever is lower.
  • Landlords cannot charge an existing tenant an application fee for moving to another unit by the same owner.

Violations would be an infraction punishable by a $100 fine, and second or subsequent violations would be considered a Misdemeanor.

Opinions expressed via testimony were largely split. Many of those in opposition were landlords, owners, and property managers, like Cassandra Swanson, who is a landlord for Paramount Property Management-- a company that has been based in Boise for the last 15 years, according to Swanson.

"I don't like the idea of putting a cap on the applications, because it punishes the smaller companies," said Swanson.

Swanson said she agrees something needs to be done about affordable housing, but also said a cap could be detrimental to local business.

"At my company, my average loss is $15 per application, and our charge right now is $39.99 per application."

She also mentioned that the restrictions could drive away owners from renting property in Boise since she says they wouldn't want to deal with the cap.

"Rather than a cap rate that could be divisive and hurt some, the goal is to help the community and make sure we have housing for everybody," said Swanson.

One point she expressed no issue with, however, was the transparency aspect, or itemized receipt.

"It seems like a great plan, because if you're being honest with it, there really is nothing to hide," said Swanson.

Many landlords who testified were proponents of the transparency aspect, but some had concerns with their ability to show itemized screening reports, because they say their screening is done through a third-party company, so they argued that they are not the owners of that itemized information.

6 On Your Side will keep you updated on what the council decides.