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Utah lawmaker revives proposal to bring hidden renter fees into open

By Annie Knox, KSL | Posted - Oct. 22, 2020 at 9:01 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — A state legislative panel gave tepid support Wednesday to a proposal putting a stop to hidden fees for renters. Its chief opponent is a lawmaker who represents Utah landlords.

The bill from Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, failed to pass earlier this year without a final vote in the last moments of the 2020 Legislature. She is reviving the measure in hopes of helping to relieve the burden on tenants as rent has soared along the Wasatch Front.

Roughly 130,000 households in the state pour more than half their income into housing, Judkins told the Judiciary Interim Committee Wednesday.

"This has a direct impact on health, wellness, homelessness, and housing stability," she said.

But Sen. Kirk Cullimore — an attorney at Cullimore Law, which files the bulk of eviction cases on behalf of Utah's residential property owners — said he sees the changes as unnecessary.

The Sandy Republican said a growing number of online services, like the Sandy-based Rentler, charge a single fee for an application that can be sent to multiple apartment communities.

"I'm still not convinced that this is addressing a legitimate issue," Cullimore said of the measure. "I think this is a solution in search of a problem."

Cullimore said he acknowledges the proposal is fairly innocuous. But he contends it may make sense to wait and see if more tenants begin using the platforms that charge a one-time application fee covering credit and background checks.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, a sponsor of the earlier measure, said the bill could be tweaked to exempt those sorts of services.

The bill would require landlords to disclose the full cost of rent and all fees — such as for parking, trash takeaway or mandatory cable — to a potential renter before accepting an application fee or any other payment.

If renters do discover any hidden fees, the bill allows them 15 days to submit a request for their money back, and the landlord will get seven days to return the money.

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The transparency helps protect landlords, not just renters, Judkins said, by ensuring those who move in will be able to make steady payments.

Francisca Blanc, with the Utah Housing Coalition, called the measure an effort at "truth in renting."

Blanc said some renters must send up to six applications in order to secure an apartment. Others have lost security deposits after realizing they can't afford the costs and declining to sign a rental agreement.

"That's a concern, because low income people don't have that kind of money," Blanc said. "This bill is addressing a real problem in our community."

Cullimore disagreed, saying he doesn't believe renters are forking over deposits before signing a lease.

Earlier this year, the measure, HB211, passed the Utah House without opposition. It did not get a vote in the full Senate as time ran out in the 2020 Legislature.

The bill next returns to a House committee.

Annie Knox

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