What’s next after multiple pro-renter bills fall short at Utah Legislature

Mar 11, 2024, 10:03 PM | Updated: 10:40 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Renters’ advocates are calling for change after the Utah Legislature opted not to pass a number of bills aimed at helping tenants.

Some of those proposals from the legislative session, which ended March 1, even had the support of an influential landlord group. But they still didn’t make it through.

“It was very frustrating,” said Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, who sponsored two of those bills.

HB321 would have let renters get certain evictions wiped off their records quicker, while HB355 would have required landlords to give more notice of rent increases.

Compromise bill giving Utah tenants more notice of rent increases moves forward

“I feel like there’s an imbalance there that needs to be remedied for renters,” said Judkins.

Despite receiving support from the Rental Housing Association of Utah, both her bills fell short.

“Ultimately this year our legislature decided the proposals went too far,” said Paul Smith, the organization’s executive director, in a statement, “upsetting the delicate balance we have tried to maintain between landlords and tenants or had too much cost.”

Tara Rollins, who leads the Utah Housing Coalition, told KSL TV Judkins’ bills would have helped stabilize people in their housing.

“Instead,” Rollins said, “we continue to ignore what can be done without spending millions.”

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, supported the faster path for removing evictions. But he opposed mandating more notice of rent going up.

Utah senators kill compromise bill giving tenants more notice of rent increases

“There’s a delicate balance right now in Utah law between renters and landlords,” Weiler said, “and I felt like that one was kind of maybe trying to alter that balance and give a little bit too much to renters.”

He said lawmakers must consider property rights – and not penalize landlords trying to pay their bills.

“We don’t want to get to a point where no landlord can collect a return for their properties,” said Weiler.

Other pro-renter bills were introduced during the session but failed to advance. HB169, sponsored by Rep. Neil Walter, R-St. George, would have required landlords to disclose certain defects to potential tenants.

HB386, sponsored by Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, would have added a renter and housing advocate to a key state housing affordability group.

Legislators punt on adding renter, advocate to housing affordability panel

Tanner Bennett, a Brigham Young University student who advocates for fellow renters, said he was “pretty unsurprised” by the Legislature’s inaction on these bills – even those supported by the landlord group.

“Regardless of having their support or not, it seems that we just can’t get it through the Legislature,” Bennett said. “If any year were to be a year, this would be a year to do it.”

Citing the rising cost of renting in Utah, Bennett said he hopes more tenants will speak out on Utah’s Capitol hill and eventually push these issues across the finish line.

“There needs to be something that happens to make sure that our renters aren’t being taken advantage of,” he said.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the House and Senate are defending their work on issues pertinent to renters in Utah.

“The House Majority remains focused on passing family friendly policies that will keep Utah as the best place to live, work, and raise a family,” said House spokesperson Alexa Musselman in a statement. “We have made huge strides to close the housing availability gap and will continue our work to make homeownership achievable for Utahns.”

“Utah was recently ranked the best state for social mobility,” added Senate spokesperson Aundrea Peterson. “During the 2024 session, lawmakers built on the first-time homebuyer assistance (FTHB) program to help more families purchase their first home and passed legislation to encourage more affordable units. Over 500 Utahns have used the FTHB program and now own homes instead of rent, which helps decrease the demand and cost of rent.”

Peterson continued, “The Senate majority caucus remains committed to family-friendly policies and lowering taxes to promote upward mobility for all Utahns.”

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What’s next after multiple pro-renter bills fall short at Utah Legislature