Bill to scale back Good Landlord program advances to House

Monday , March 09, 2015 - 2:12 PM

SALT LAKE CITY -- Some Utah cities that have adopted the Good Landlord program require property owners and managers to refuse to rent to individuals with criminal records.

But Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, hopes to halt that practice with HB441, a bill that passed through the House Business and Labor committee Monday morning on a 7-3 vote. The measure now advances to the House with limited time to clear both chambers before Utah’s legislative session adjourns Thursday night.

King said that such programs, which cities intended to offset disproportionate public safety costs to apartments and multi-family housing, have worked to further stigmatize an already disadvantaged population.

Anna Brower, public policy advocate for the ACLU of Utah, spoke in support of HB441.

“Stable, safe housing is an absolute necessity for people who are trying to comply with terms of probation and parole. It is one of the most critical factors for rehabilitation and re-entry back to the community for people who have been in jail or prison,” Brower said.

But some municipalities force landlords to deny housing to ex-offenders by charging significantly higher business license fees if they do not comply.

“Some cities have boasted for years that Good Landlord Programs that require landlords to turn away anyone with a recent criminal conviction are good policy for public safety,” Brower said. “This is simply not true. It solves no problems, it simply excludes entire categories of people, many of whom pose little or no threat to public safety.”

Josh Daniels, policy analyst for Libertas Institute, described the practice as government micromanaging decisions that should be left to landlords.

“To say that an entire category of people is unwelcome goes too far,” Daniels said. “We feel we should leave those decisions up to the landlords themselves.”

According to Daniels, 15 Utah cities have enacted the Good Landlord program: Brigham City, Clearfield, Logan, Midvale, North Salt Lake, Ogden, Roy, Salt Lake City, South Ogden, South Salt Lake, Sunset, Taylorsville, Washington Terrace, West Jordan and West Valley City. However not all of them include an outright ban on renting to former offenders.

In cities with that restriction, disproportionate licensing fees can vary from additional $20 to $345 per rental unit.

“Some would say it’s a voluntary measure, that a landlord can choose to participate,” Daniels said, “but the higher fee is coercive.”

Brandon Smith of the Utah League of Cities and Towns spoke against advancing HB441.

“(The League) recognizes that there are a lot of competing interests in this area. We committed to all the stakeholders that we would take a look at these programs and study them in the interim,” Smith said.

By email, Paul Smith, executive director of the Utah Apartment Association, also spoke against King’s legislation.

“As long as cities are allowed to charge landlords for the costs of providing higher levels of service to tenants, landlords should be able to participate in good landlord programs that reduce their fees,” Smith said. “The key piece of any Good Landlord program is not renting to high risk renters, like those with recent criminal activity.

Smith credited Ogden's good landlord program with reducing crime by 31 percent on rental properties.

But Mike Haddon, deputy director for the Utah Department of Corrections, said that the people the system aims to help get back on track are hindered by those restrictions.

“They need to have those foundational elements in their lives that we all take for granted,” Haddon said, noting that ex-offenders struggle finding a place to live, transportation and access to types of care. “Programs like Good Landlord push them away from affordable housing and out of communities where their families are. It runs counter to what we’re trying to do with criminal justice reinvestment reform.”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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