The Idaho House on Monday overwhelmingly passed a bill that would prevent local governments from restricting rental fees.
The bill, sponsored by Representative Joe Palmer, a Republican from Meridian, would prevent local governments from creating regulations on fees, deposits and other bills imposed by landlords. Currently, only the City of Boise regulates rental application fees.
“Since when do we no longer trust our consumers or our businesses? Palmer said during Monday’s debate. “Placing it on the government to come and pay attention to us, I think is a bad idea.”
Currently, tenants in Boise do not have to pay more than $30 in application fees due to a 2019 city ordinance. Treasure Valley is consistently ranked among the most unaffordable housing markets in the United States in due to soaring prices and a shrinking supply of available housing.
Rep. Colin Nash, a Democrat from Boise, said he was likely one of the few lawmakers with long-term hire. For a three-bedroom house, his family expects to pay about $2,500 a month, Nash said.
“It just compounds the problems for those looking for housing,” he said of Palmer’s bill. “And instead of adding arrows to the quiver of local government to help combat this crisis, we are preventing local government from reacting and intervening. Their citizens are exploited.
Palmer’s bill would override Boise’s order and allow landlords to charge any amount for filing fees. Landlords collect fees to cover the cost of background and credit checks on potential tenants.
Rep. Chad Christensen, a Republican from Idaho Falls, compared regulating this process to communism, a political theory that advocates public ownership of property.
The House voted, 54 to 14, to pass the bill; he is now heading to the Senate.
Ten Democrats and four Republicans opposed it. Republican “no” votes came from Representatives Clark Kauffman of Filer, Ryan Kerby of New Plymouth, Scott Syme of Caldwell, and Fred Wood of Burley.
Kerby said he favors banning rent regulation, which is already prohibited by Idaho law. But in some cases, landlords collect fees on dozens of requests for a few units and keep the fees from requests that are not accepted.
“It bothers me,” he said. “I don’t know exactly why we would protect these people.”
Democratic Representatives James Ruchti, of Pocatello, and Ned Burns, of Bellevue, did not join their fellow party members in opposing the legislation. Ruchti, a personal injury lawyer, voted in favor of the bill and Burns, a real estate agent, was absent.
Last year, the same bill introduced by Rep. Greg Ferch, a Republican from Boise, went unheard and never made it to the House floor.
City of Boise officials oppose bill
Boise city officials testified against the bill at a committee hearing last week. City Council member Lisa Sánchez, a tenant who drafted the original ordinance, said the bill would exacerbate the hardships faced by tenants in Idaho.
“They find themselves facing housing instability for the first time in their lives,” Sánchez said. “Our community must do better because of them.”
Michael Prentiss, who said he owns a property management company in Boise, told representatives at last week’s committee hearing that passing the bill would allow predatory landlords to charge high fees . He said he saw the charges climb to $190 before Boise’s order took effect.
“I don’t care what your political belief is, I don’t think we wanted to push anyone else to the edge of homelessness,” Prentiss said.
Idaho Statesmen reporter Joni Auden Land contributed to this report.
This story was originally published February 7, 2022 1:37 p.m.