City of Boise Enacts Three New Tenant Protections; Advocates Continue Push for Source-of-Income Ordinance

The City Council of Boise, Idaho, voted unanimously to adopt three new tenant protections on August 15. Collectively, the new protections will bar landlords from retaliating against renters who make repair requests, require landlords to return renters’ security deposits when buildings are demolished, and mandate that landlords provide renters with a city document outlining their rights and responsibilities. The new protections will take effect on January 1, 2024.

City officials and advocates celebrated the passage of the new protections. “Tenant protections are relevant not only to individual renters and landlords, but also to businesses for whom housing stability for their employees often translates to workforce stability; to institutions of higher education, whose students and staff are often reliant on the rental housing market; and to any Boiseans who want to live in a community where it is possible for people to access housing and to stay in their homes,” said Nicki Olivier Hellenkamp, housing advisor to the mayor of Boise.

“Boise city officials have taken some courageous (but necessary) positions in the past year to encourage a broader spectrum of housing availability and to provide better support to tenants and landlords, from the application fees/process requirements to the newly enacted protections of non-retaliation, security deposits, and a very practical requirement for communicating rights and responsibilities of all parties,” said Denise Caruzzi, past president of the Boise/Ada County Homeless Coalition and a member of NLIHC. Caruzzi also noted the need for further action and expressed hope that the passage of an initial suite of tenant protections will open the door for a source-of-income ordinance.

The provision prohibiting retaliatory conduct aims to ensure that renters can request repairs and raise safety concerns without fear of retaliation. Under this new protection, landlords cannot retaliate against renters who raise concerns about potential code violations, make repair requests, become a member of a community resident association, or retain counsel. Retaliatory actions that the ordinance prohibits include terminating a tenancy, refusing to renew a lease, raising rent, decreasing services, or harassing tenants.

The City Council enacted the security deposit return provision to support tenants who are permanently displaced by an owner’s decision to demolish or substantially renovate a building. The ordinance establishes a rebuttable presumption that security deposits will be returned in full when an owner decides to conduct a demolition or a renovation that will result in displacement. The ordinance includes an exception that could require damages for any property that could realistically be reused by the landlord following the repairs or renovations.

To ensure that all parties know their rights and responsibilities when entering into a lease agreement, the City of Boise will require that landlords provide new tenants with a notice of landlord and tenant responsibilities. The city will create, maintain, and publish an online version of the document. Landlords will be required to provide the URL link to the tenant, or a printed copy upon request. The city will soon undertake the process of developing a concise document that summarizes landlords’ and tenants’ rights and responsibilities under city and state law, as well as other relevant resources.

The City Council discussed a fourth proposal to prohibit source-of-income discrimination – that is, the denial of a tenancy based on an applicant’s lawful, verifiable source of income. Federal fair housing law does not prevent discrimination against prospective tenants who would pay rent with Housing Choice Vouchers or other subsidies. This form of discrimination is often a facially race-neutral proxy for racial discrimination and an obstacle to achieving housing stability for recipients of housing assistance. While dozens of states and cities have enacted their own bans on source-of-income discrimination in recent years, neither the State of Idaho nor any municipalities within Idaho have outlawed this practice so far. Boise’s proposed source-of-income ordinance would prevent landlords from denying a rental application solely because a tenant would pay their rent using housing subsidies, child support, veterans’ benefits, or any other verifiable and lawful source of income.

“In these times of high rents and low vacancy rates, voucher holders often fall way down on a list of applicants,” said Caruzzi, commenting on the need for a source-of-income ordinance to follow the protections that were passed in August. “These particular provisions typically benefit both tenants and landlords as they encourage neighborhood (and family) stability, more dispersed housing opportunities, reduce vacancies and turnover, and minimize the increased costs to all of us when housing is unavailable to some of us.”

Many representatives of social services organizations, renters, and advocates testified in support of the source-of-income discrimination ordinance in the August 15 meeting, while landlords and investors expressed concerns about administrative burdens. Council members were generally supportive of new source-of-income protections and voted to send the measure back for revision. Before the measure comes up for another vote, council members will work out remaining details, including applicability to smaller landlords. Advocates will continue to push for enactment of source-of-income protections as the measure returns to the City Council for further consideration.

Boise’s passage of three new tenant protections builds on the momentum created by the passage of more than 200 state and local tenant protections since January 2021. The End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions (ERASE) Project at NLIHC has been working to track protections passed across the country in its State and Local Tenant Protections Database. The ERASE Project was formed in January 2021 to ensure that the historic $46.6 billion in emergency rental assistance aid enacted by Congress reached those extremely low-income and most marginalized people for whom it was intended. Through a coalition of state and local partners, the ERASE Project has been working closely with its partners this year, including the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, to advocate for the passage of stronger tenant protections. These protections include a new Idaho state law, SB 1039, that will require any fees imposed on tenants to be reasonable and that will create greater transparency about fees (see Memo, 4/3).

Find more information about the ERASE campaign and tenant protections here.

Learn about the process leading up to the enactment of Boise’s new tenant protections here.