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Proposed Idaho bill would require rental fees to be reasonable, disclosed in writing

The proposed Idaho bill would apply to fees in lease agreements, including late fees, pet fees and processing fees.

BOISE, Idaho — Many Boiseans struggle to pay rent - but high fees can also pose a problem for renters. 

A new bill currently working its way through the Idaho Legislature aims to cap those fees, and make sure they are disclosed up-front to tenants.

Sen. Ali Rabe (D-Boise) is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1039. Rabe said she's been working with landlords and tenants groups on the proposed law for several years. 

"Exorbitant rental fees really is a serious problem in our state right now," Rabe said. "There are a lot of new large property management and landlord companies coming into Idaho and taking advantage of tenants. I'd say a majority of landlords are really decent, wonderful people, and they do not take advantage of tenants. But there is a small number of bad actors that is. So, this bill is really meant to protect consumers from those folks."

The proposed law would require rental fees to be reasonable, and to be stated in writing. It would also require landlords to give tenants 30 days notice in writing if a fee is changed.

The law would apply to fees in a lease agreement, including late fees, pet fees, and credit card processing fees. 

"The Idaho Asset Building Network actually did a survey of 49 businesses and nonprofits, and asked them the most common challenges tenants are facing," Rabe said. "Aside from rent burden, exorbitant fees was another top issue that everyone named. So, it's a huge challenge across the state right now, and this is a really simple solution to a large problem."

Rabe said the term "reasonable" - what's used in the bill's text - is a common legal term that is used throughout Idaho code. 

"Our code requires mortgage fees to be reasonable – storage facility fees, certain credit card fees, condominium association fees. So, it's very common in Idaho for courts to interpret this," Rabe said. 

In practice, if a tenant believes a fee is unreasonable, they could bring their landlord to small claims court to try and recoup that fee.

"So, it wouldn't result in a lot of unnecessary, time consuming, expensive litigation," Rabe said.

Sen. Rabe said the bill is a bipartisan effort. The bill has four co-sponsors: Sen. Doug Ricks (R-Rexburg), Sen. Chris Trakel (R-Caldwell), Rep. Edward Hill (R-Eagle), and Rep. Marco Erickson (R-Idaho Falls).

Rabe said laws similar to SB 1039 aren't uncommon across the country. 

"So, 27 other states have limited rental fees, and 12 of them have limited rental fees by requiring them to be reasonable, including states like Oklahoma and Texas," Rabe said. "So, it's a really common approach policy-wise."

Rabe first attempted the bill during the 2021 legislative session. It passed out of the Senate, but failed in the House.

"Unfortunately, there was some confusion on the House floor and limited debate during the vote, and it lost by 12 votes," Rabe said. "So, we came really close, we decided to bring it back this year. The issue of exorbitant rental fees is still a big problem. We're just trying to address that - providing tenants some protection as consumers, and also providing landlords some guidelines that they can use, which also protects them from unnecessary lawsuits."

SB 1039 has been filed for its third reading in the Senate. Rabe expects the bill to be up for a vote on the Senate floor within the next week. 

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