Boise & Garden City

Hearing set on Boise law to curb rental application fees, crack down on bad landlords

Update, Oct. 24, 2019:

The Boise City Council will hear this proposal at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at Boise City Hall. If approved, the following things will be required from rental applications:

  • Criteria applications will be judged on must be disclosed before the application can be accepted, as long with the amount that will be charged for the application fee.
  • The application fee will be capped at the actual cost of screening or $30, whichever is lower.
  • New application fees cannot be charged to tenants moving to another property under the same owner.
  • First violations are considered infractions with a $100 fine; subsequent infractions are considered a misdemeanor and would be punishable under those guidelines.

The city will provide free on-site child care as well as Spanish language translation during the hearing.

The story below was originally published on Aug. 18 under the headline “Boise could crack down on predatory landlords with new restrictions on applications, fees.”

Until recently, Mandy Mondragon was homeless.

She took up residence in a hotel at $340 a week and applied to apartments across the Treasure Valley. From Boise to Nampa to Notus, she applied to more than a dozen places. With fees ranging from $45 to $60 per application, her efforts got expensive fast. In just two months, she estimates, they cost her more than $750.

Mondragon, a 36-year-old behavioral therapist, was willing to pay the fees to find a new home, but she ran into the same problem again and again: A landlord would take her application fee, then tell her the place was rented out only after she’d paid. More often than not, she’d find the listing again online a few days later.

To Lisa Sánchez, a member of Boise City Council, that’s “ridiculous” and “predatory.”

Sánchez says she is drafting an ordinance to stop people who take fees with no intention to rent, or whose fees are unreasonably high.

“This is a step in the right direction for affordable housing,” Sánchez told the Statesman in a phone interview.

She is looking into capping rental application fees at $50, although she says some people have told her that that may be too high. She is considering proposing abolishing application fees altogether.

“To discover that we have some folks that are trying to supplement their own incomes by taking advantage of renters isn’t acceptable,” Sánchez said. “It doesn’t fit with the life force we have in Boise that we all speak of. ... When people were experiencing this price gouging, that raised a red flag.”

A cap could be a problem for property managers. John Davidson, the owner of Aloha Property Management and the president of the Southwest Idaho chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers, said a cap below $50 could damage his business.

Davidson said he charges a $50 application fee. Because Aloha uses a service to collect fees paid online, Aloha typically gets $45 of that $50. It costs $43 to $47 dollars to run the application, he said.

“Everyone wants their money,” said Davidson, who emphasized that he did not speak for NARPM nationally. “I would have to pass that fee onto property owners. That could be passed on to renters by increasing rent to compensate.”

But Davidson said he is open to new rules, because predatory landlords and property managers give reputable ones a bad name. Davidson said he would consider supporting a licensing requirement for landlords if one were proposed, depending on its details.

“If you’re doing everything correctly, what do you have to hide?” he asked.

Sánchez, who is the only member of Boise City Council who rents her home, said she wanted to introduce new rules because people “should not be making a living off rental applications alone.” She used to be a homeowner but lost her house in 2010. Now, she says she rents from a “landlady with integrity” and thinks all Boiseans should also be able to have a good rental experience.

Mondragon said the kinds of rules Sánchez talked about could have helped her save time, money and stress. In May, she rented a house in Nampa after months of looking. A friend lent her money to be able to get into the house, but she says people who don’t have that kind of support system could “be homeless forever.”

“They’re never going to be able to save the money it takes to get into a place,” Mondragon said. “They’re constantly paying $50 here, $60 there, just to maybe be considered for a place. Doing that while also making the first month’s rent and deposit makes it nearly impossible.”

There is not yet a timeline on when the City Council could see the new restrictions, but Sánchez has talked to Mayor David Bieter about it. Mike Journee, a spokesman for Bieter, said the mayor is “supportive of the concept” and is interested in exploring it further.

Sánchez has talked to both Bieter and city staffers about the importance of moving quickly.

“I feel it’s something we need to put in place urgently,” she said. “People are suffering, and we need to provide relief as soon as we can.”

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.