A new bill at the Utah Legislature is aimed at helping ex-cons find housing and stay out of jail. It would get rid of city-sponsored incentives landlords sometimes get for refusing to rent to people who have a criminal history.
About a dozen cities in Utah, including Salt Lake and Ogden, currently participate in what’s called a “good landlord” program. Landlords in the program receive fee discounts and other financial benefits for meeting certain requirements. But one of those requirements is that a landlord cannot rent to someone convicted of a crime in the last four years.
“When I first learned about this I was sort of incredulous,” says Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. “I found myself saying, ‘No, that can’t be right.’”’
King is sponsoring the bill. He says he looked into it and found that under Utah law, cities can incentivize landlord to not rent to an ex-con.
“The government shouldn’t be able to coerce business owners into denying people housing,” King told the House Business and Labor Committee Wednesday afternoon. “It’s as simple as that. It just isn’t right.”
King’s bill passed out of the committee, but some lawmakers had concerns about it. Among them was Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, who works in real estate. Froerer says he would feel better about renting to an ex-convict who has been vetted by the corrections department.
“As a landlord, I’m a lot more secure about renting to a felon that comes out with a waiver,” Froerer says.
Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, says it’s already difficult enough for people coming out of prison to find housing.
“We need to look for more ways to help those people that have found themselves coming out to prison, to give them the opportunities they need so that we can reduce recidivism,” says Schultz.
Rep. King’s bill, HB 178, passed out of committee with an 8-5 vote. It will next be heard by the full House.