Democrats fight for fairness in our housing market

Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise
Reader Contributor

All Idahoans need a roof over their heads, but today’s housing market challenges residents across the income spectrum. Rapid population growth has led to home costs outpacing wages, with monthly rents climbing an average of $475 in Idaho — a staggering 41% increase — over the past three years. And a worrisome trend in out-of-state investors scooping up large swaths of properties is only exacerbating the situation. 

While many landlords operate in good faith, state laws allow bad actors to take advantage of having the upper hand in a tough market. Renters sometimes have no other options than to pay exorbitant application fees, exploitative charges and steep rent hikes. Idahoans are often surprised to learn how little recourse renters have against these practices. 

With so much at stake for families, Idaho Democrats have worked hard to enact basic consumer protections. While there is much more progress to make, we have scored critical wins toward leveling the playing field. 

Until 2020, landlords could demand any level of rent increase once a lease expired with no advance notice, which often left renters scrambling. House Democratic Leader Ilana Rubel led the passage of the Fair Warning Act, requiring a 30-day notice for rent increases or terminations of a residential lease. This gives families a fighting chance at landing on their feet. 

Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise. File photo.

This year, Sen. Ali Rabe, who leads an eviction prevention nonprofit, brought legislation to stop the surprise fees and wildly unreasonable charges she has seen unscrupulous landlords spring on renters. In one incident, a landlord billed a family $300, claiming that a praying mantis kept in a jar for a science fair was an unauthorized pet. 

While 34 Republican legislators voted against this common-sense legislation — a compromise between lobbyists for landlords and renters’ advocates — enough Republicans sided with Democrats to ensure fees are reasonable and spelled out in the lease ahead of time in the future. 

Idaho Democrats have also played defense against state legislation threatening city-level consumer protections. One city passed an ordinance to curb some landlords’ deceptive practice of charging exorbitant rental application fees and collecting fees from applicants even when no unit was available. Republican legislators attempted to restrict the power of local governments to tackle this issue through state law. Fortunately, we have been able to block this legislation. 

We have a lot of unfinished business, such as Senate Democratic Leader Melissa Wintrow’s bill requiring landlords to justify deductions from security deposits, which Republican legislators blocked. But all our wins have been hard-fought, multi-year efforts to get the Republican supermajority to come along. And Idaho Democrats will continue fighting for a housing market that works for all Idahoans.

Rep. Lauren Necochea is the House assistant Democratic leader, representing District 19 in Boise on the Commerce and Human Resources; Environment, Energy and Technology; Revenue and Taxation; and Ways and Means committees.

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