The Utah Housing Coalition (UHC), an NLIHC state partner, is celebrating a victory in its continued struggle to improve the state’s Good Landlord Program (GLP).The GLP allows municipalities to provide financial incentives to landlords who help reduce the cost of emergency public safety services by implementing exclusionary measures with the intent of reducing crime in their properties. The program has resulted in leases being denied to those convicted of a variety of offenses, and in tenants being evicted for having made emergency assistance calls. In the 2011 Legislative Session, advocates were successful in their efforts to pass H. B. 403, a law that prohibits an owner from taking action against a renter for requesting assistance from a public safety agency. The bill will become law in May.
Municipalities had begun to impose additional rental unit tax or license fees on landlords to cover the increasing costs accrued from multiple responses by emergency medical, fire, and police assistance calls to a particular property. The state requires cities that impose these fees to establish a GLP, allowing the landlord to qualify for a reduction in fees. The statute only mandates the program require the landlord to complete a training approved by the city, implement measures to reduce crime in rental housing, and operate and manage rental housing in accordance with applicable city ordinances.
Advocates became alarmed when municipalities began passing ordinances that would deny housing to people with criminal records, those who were previously homeless, and people with mental and physical disabilities, among others. In addition, landlords would not be eligible for a reduction in rental unit taxes or license fees if they failed to fulfill any obligations required by the program, or if a tenant in their rental unit makes two or more emergency assistance calls. No exceptions are made for domestic violence calls.
Although the program is promoted as voluntary, advocates believe that landlords do not have a choice but to opt into the program. Rental unit fees can be as high as $170 per year per rental unit and are applied to all landlords, regardless of the crime statistics for a specific property. If the landlord participated in the program, the fee could be reduced to as low as $10 per unit.
H.B. 403 became a national effort in December when local and national ACLU offices got involved. Connections within the ACLU network allowed advocates to secure meetings with State Representative Jen Seelig (D), who became the champion of H. B. 403. Rep. Seelig worked with UHC on the policy issues of the GLP and the proposed legislation, and worked with the ACLU on legal issues. Although advocates were hoping for a more comprehensive bill that included language preventing landlords from refusing housing to people with criminal records, they believe the passage of H. B. 403 is a step in the right direction.
UHC will continue to work with national and local advocates, and the local HUD Fair Housing office, to address the issue of people being denied housing based on the existence of a criminal record. Advocates are hopeful additional legislation will be introduced next year to address remaining issues.
"It is sad to see that such detrimental public policy changes have a domino effect in our community. GLP was promoted as a tool to prevent and stop crime. But in reality, it just moves crime form one city to another,” said Francisca Blanc, policy analyst for UHC. “It does not address at all people's human right to have access to decent housing, and rehabilitate themselves back in the community. A local government should not enact policies that take pre-emptive action on people by not giving them a second chance."
To view UHC recommendations for the GLP, visit http://www.utahhousing.org/documents/FACTSHEETGoodLandlordProgram.pdf
For more information contact Francisca Blanc, Policy Analyst, UHC, firstname.lastname@example.org