Idaho Legislature Passes Bipartisan Bill to Require Reasonable Rental Fees

The Idaho state legislature passed a bipartisan bill, SB 1039, that will require any fees imposed on tenants to be reasonable and that will create greater transparency about fees. In addition to requiring that residential landlords disclose all fees in written rental agreements, SB 1039 prevents landlords from charging fees in an amount greater than that specified in the rental agreement. For tenants with written leases, the bill requires that landlords provide 30 days’ notice for any changes in fees. Governor Brad Little signed the bill on March 20, and it will apply to rental agreements signed after July 1.

“Idaho law contains few consumer protections for renters, and Idaho’s families are the ones paying the price – especially as the state experiences rapidly increasing rental prices and a shortage of almost 25,000 affordable and available homes for renters with modest incomes,” said Kendra Knighten, policy associate with the Idaho Asset Building Network. “Families and children thrive when they are stably housed, and the passage of Senate Bill 1039 is a significant and necessary step toward promoting housing stability statewide. We are very grateful Idaho’s lawmakers supported this important legislation and urge them to continue supporting similar consumer protections in the future.”

Idaho Asset Building Network is a network of leaders, service providers, businesses, and consumers statewide committed to advancing policies that support all Idahoans in achieving long-term financial security. The organization is a member of NLIHC’s ERASE (End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions) Cohort, a group of state and local nonprofit partners that work in collaboration to conduct on-the-ground partnership development, capacity-building, outreach and education, policy reform, and systems change work. The ERASE Cohort not only works to ensure that the historic emergency rental assistance enacted by Congress reaches the lowest-income and most marginalized renters but also promotes policies that will advance long-term tenant protections and eviction prevention measures. In a survey of Idaho nonprofits, Idaho Asset Building Network determined that exorbitant fees were among the greatest issues facing Idaho renters and highlighted the need for policies such as SB 1039.

Senator Ali Rabe (D-Boise), the lead sponsor of the bill, worked with tenants, landlords, and community organizations for years to develop the proposal. Rabe has a deep understanding of the challenges that low-income renters confront: outside of her role as a state legislator, Rabe is executive director of the nonprofit Jesse Tree, which works to prevent eviction and homelessness in the state’s Treasure Valley. The organization provides emergency rental assistance, security deposit assistance, eviction prevention services, and comprehensive case management, and it operates a tenant resource center. Rabe often encounters the impact of exorbitant late fees in her work at Jesse Tree: in extreme cases, late fees can add up to amounts that are multiple times greater than the back rent owed, which exacerbates housing instability and puts renters at greater risk of eviction. According to Idaho law, late rent payments must cover the cost of fees owed before they can be credited to rental arrears.

A version of SB 1039 was first introduced in 2021 and passed out of the state’s Senate, but it failed in the state’s House of Representatives. Rabe reintroduced the bill in February 2023 with four Republican cosponsors: Senators Doug Ricks and Chris Trakel and Representatives Edward Hill and Marco Erickson.

The bill received support from housing advocates and property management companies alike. Idaho Asset Building Network mobilized dozens of community members to contact their state legislators in support of the bill. Representatives from the National Association of Residential Property Managers, Paramount Property Management, and the Idaho Apartment Association also testified in favor of SB 1039. The property management companies pointed to the benefits of uniform statewide guidance to curb predatory practices and delineate basic consumer protections for renters.

During the bill’s hearing in the legislature, staff from Jesse Tree highlighted examples of unreasonable fines and fees that clients confronted, including the example of a family that faced a steep lease violation fee for having an unauthorized pet when their child brought home a praying mantis inside of a jar. Stories of such clearly unreasonable fees struck a chord with conservative state legislators, even those who were initially skeptical. The bill passed the state Senate on a vote of 23-10 on February 23 and passed the House on a vote of 44-24 on March 13. 

Although SB 1039 does not provide a concrete definition of “reasonable,” the language of reasonableness has parallels in the Idaho Code. State law requires mortgage fees and storage facility fees to be reasonable, so courts are already familiar with reasonableness as a legal standard. Under SB 1039, tenants can bring their landlord to small claims court to attempt to recoup fees that they believe to be unreasonable.