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New Idaho legislation touts significant protections for renters

The proposed legislation takes on rental application fees, something Idahoans have noted are out of control in some places.

BOISE, Idaho — New legislation is being touted as the most significant renter protection to date in Idaho. The idea behind it, is to protect Idahoans who find themselves in an accelerated and competitive rental market.

“It does move the ball forward in protecting renters,” said bill sponsor, Democrat Rep. James Ruchti.

Rep. Ruchti says the recent explosion in the Idaho rental market helped prompt the legislation.

“Just opens up the market to some nefarious behavior, some bad behavior from landlords and apartment managers,” Ruchti said.

The bill breaks into a few items: First, if a landlord charges an application fee, they must:

  1. Have a unit available; and
  2. Disclose the criteria the landlord will review for the background check.

Ruchti says this is a specific solution to a specific problem lawmakers have heard about.

“I didn't want it to be a bill that regulated an entire sector of the industry. If we could identify a specific problem, then that's what I wanted to focus on,” Ruchti said.

The second set of conditions is that a landlord may not accept multiple application fees for a rental. The exceptions to that are two cases.

  1. The application fee is being used as a written backup offer in case the first application being considered falls through. Landlords need to handle one at a time.  The bill also prevents landlords from doing a background check or spending the money until the first applicant falls through and the unit becomes available.
  2. If the owner thinks a unit will soon become available, they can accept an application fee as long as the tenant acknowledges in writing that it is to hold their place for a possible opening.

The bill is co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Joe Palmer. Palmer brought legislation this session that prevented local governments, like cities and counties, from being involved with setting or regulating rental fee rates. That legislation would end things like the City of Boise’s $30 cap on rental application fees. Palmer was criticized for the legislation but explained he was trying to keep Government out of the market and was happy to take on legislation to protect renters.

“If a bill is brought to me, that helps to protect people, that is not regulatory on somebody, absolutely, I would be happy to look at that. As far as price gouging, you are going to have bad players do certain things,” Palmer told KTVB.

Ruchti says the ideas in the bill were created in part through conversations with rental industry professionals advocating for fairness and ethical practices.

“They were the ones who told us that these are the best practices in their industry when it comes to application fees. So that's why we use those best practices,” Ruchti said.

The legislation passed a House committee with a do pass recommendation, it now heads to the full Idaho house. If eventually signed into law, a major question centers on the enforcement of the bill. Who would make sure landlords are following the provisions? Ruchti says the legislation fits in perfectly with the Idaho consumer protection act.

“It can be used as a tool in a case under the Idaho Consumer Protection Act. I'm a trial attorney by trade. What I'll tell you is you could create a jury instruction that could go to the jury that says the following behavior was against the law at the time these actions were taken, and you would basically take this statute that we're hopefully about to pass and you would put that into jury instructions,” Ruchti said.

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