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Idaho House passes bill banning cities from regulating rental fees and deposits

The House in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
The House in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Opponents of the bill say unregulated fees brings hardships to Idahoans struggling to find affordable housing

The Idaho House of Representatives comfortably passed a bill Monday that would ban cities and counties from regulating or limiting the amount of fees and deposits landlords may charge tenants and applicants.

House Bill 442would add lease fees and deposits to an existing rent control law that bans local governments like cities and counties from regulating the amount landlords can charge in rent for residential property.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, said he believes fees and deposits should have been included in the original lawbanning local governments from regulating rent, which dates to 1990.

But several Democrats and a couple of Republicans warned passing the bill would further hurt families who are looking for affordable housing and diminish a local control philosophy the GOP-controlled Legislature says it values.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said the tight housing market and low rental vacancy rates in the Treasure Valley and across Idaho allow landlords to wrack up huge amounts of money in rental application fees from multiple applicants even when they know they only have one or two units available to rent and the vast majority of applicants who pay an application fee won’t be accepted to rent.

For instance, Gannon said if landlords charge a $40 application fee and receive 30 applications for a single available unit, that brings in $1,200 through applications fees, $1,160 of which comes from people who won’t even end up being able to rent the unit.

Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, said Boise is the only local government that he is aware of that has a cap on rental application fees, which in this case is $30. Nash, who is a long term renter himself, said caps can protect families from being charged high fees for units they have little hope of being able to rent.

Even though Boise would be uniquely affected by the bill, Palmer said that is not why he brought it.

“This isn’t about Boise,” Palmer said. If Boise officials want more apartment and rental units, Palmer said they should reduce property taxes and get out of developers’s way.

Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, wondered why legislators wouldn’t trust local government officials to determine what is best in their communities.

“Local control has always been paramount, yet every time I turn around I seem to hear another instance of where we at the state know better than those people who are down at those local communities,” Syme and during debate.

In the end, the bill passed 54-14.

Syme, Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, and Debbie Critchfield, the superintendent of public instruction candidate who was appointed to serve as a substitute legislator for Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, joined 10 Democrats in voting against the bill.

House Bill 442 heads next to the Idaho Senate for consideration.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.