Idaho shuts down bill to remove rental application fee caps

On Jan. 26, a new bill concerning rental fees and deposits was introduced to the Idaho State House of Representatives.

House Bill 45 was introduced by Republican Rep. Greg Ferch, a freshman legislator elected to represent District 21. The bill seeks to ban city and county governments from regulating rental application fees and security deposits. Currently, rent is the only aspect of the rental process that local governments are barred from regulating.

This bill appears to come as a response to a Boise City Council ordinance passed in late 2019. A significant detail of the ordinance was its cap on rental application fees at $30. The adoption of this bill would remove the Boise ordinance and ban anything like it from cropping up within the state.

[Photo of La Pointe apartment complex.]
Photo by Mackenzie Hudson | The Arbiter

Ferch is a property manager, a fact he disclosed while proposing the bill to the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee. According to the statement of purpose attached to the bill, Ferch seeks to, “create uniformity across Idaho’s 201 incorporated cities and 44 counties from having different laws and ordinances regulating such matters in a contract between two parties.” 

Ferch wasn’t available for further clarification on the reasoning behind his proposal.

Another freshman legislator Democratic Rep. Colin Nash, opposes Ferch’s proposal. Nash noted that he is one of a few members of the Idaho House of Representatives who are renters themselves.

“We are in a very severe housing crisis right now, not only in the Treasure Valley but in America,” Nash said. 

Nash also mentioned the second CARES Act passed in December of 2020,, which gave Idaho $200 million in rental assistance.Nash believes that the House Bill 45 would undermine this fact.

“To me, a bill like this adds insult to injury to a lot of those folks who are struggling to find housing or stay in their current housing,”  Nash said. “Renters don’t have a lot of allies in the legislature, and we’re gonna do everything we can to make sure that they’re protected.”

This bill’s proposal comes at a time when rent prices have been increasing in the Boise area since the start of the coronavirus pandemic spring of 2020.

Isabelle Boicout, a junior civil engineering major and renter, made note of the large number of incoming renters who would be affected by a bill like this.

“Most of the people I talk to that are underclassmen are planning to move off-campus,” Boicourt said. “That’ll definitely affect all those people because they’re gonna have to pay.”

Summer Ericksen, a freshman social work major, lives in University Suites on campus and has been looking for possible rentals for the past few months. As a potential renter, she found the bill to be in the interest of landowners.

“I prefer something to be regulated and not just, ‘Hey, you go spend $500 for an application fee’,” Ericksen said.

Ericksen mentioned how the bill would create a scenario where she may have to pay a high amount for an application fee, but then find that she doesn’t meet the landlord’s requirements, meaning she would pay the high application fee for nothing. Ericksen thinks proposing an increase to the minimum wage as a way of balancing out this legislation could help.

“I feel like if they’re going to be doing that kind of thing, they also should raise minimum wage,” Ericksen said. “They should raise it so that you’re actually able to afford, not only rent, but also those application fees, and not let it be a big deal if you don’t pass their [requirements].”

There have been efforts in the Idaho Legislature to assist low-income renters, according to two bills proposed by Democratic Sen. Ali Rabe of District 17, the district which contains Boise State. 

Rabe’s first bill, Senate Bill 1088, has been co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Doug Ricks and would require fees to be reasonable and mentioned in rental agreements. Rabe’s other bill would require vacancies that demonstrate eligibility requirements for attendance to be marketed and for one application fee processed at a time. 

“I think that my bills are showing that application fees and other fees imposed on renters are a problem, and the state needs to act to do something about that,” Rabe said.

Rabe, who is also the executive director for the homelessness and eviction non-profit Jesse Tree, acknowledged the high number of renters within her district. She believes her bills would ensure the protection of renters from bad-acting landlords, even saying that they could have some support from the rental industry.

“Property managers and landlords support these types of regulations. So, we should support the industry and help them regulate themselves,” Rabe said.

Ferch’s House Bill 45 has been tabled by an Idaho House of Representatives’ Judiciary, Rules, and Administration Subcommittee. This means that the bill can’t be brought back into consideration for this legislative session until it has two-thirds support from the subcommittee. 

However, the subcommittee did not have the authority to table the bill, meaning that the subcommittee would have to meet again and recommend that the larger Judiciary, Rules, and Administration Committee table the bill.

On March 5, the committee voted 8-7 to kill the bill, meaning the rental application fee cap will stay at $30 in Boise.

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