Lawmakers would be exempt from "good landlord" programs offered by a number of cities under a bill passed Wednesday by the Utah Legislature — a quiet carve-out that even the sponsor of the measure was surprised to find was in his bill.
"Where it came from, I don’t know," Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, said of the landlord exemption.
Sumsion’s bill, HB216, is intended to set guidelines on the "good landlord" programs that have been implemented in 11 cities and ensure that landlords who have taken the training in one city don’t have to re-take the training in each city where they rent units.
The class costs landlords $59 and lasts eight hours, mostly to train them on the applicable tenant law.
But one section of the bill says that legislators and other elected officials whose public service touches on real estate issues are exempt from the landlord program.
Numerous Utah lawmakers are involved in property management, although it is unclear exactly how many would benefit from the carve-out. More than a third of House members and 11 of the 29 senators are involved in real estate or own rental properties, according to their conflict of interest forms.
"That just slipped through, I guess," said Tom Brooks, a landlord who worked on the bill, but didn’t know about the exemption. "That’s like the trouble with Congress now. … They’re just exempting themselves. Why don’t they have to follow the laws they make for everybody else? It’s pretty preposterous."
Craig Cook, an attorney who had a hand in negotiations, said he had no idea the exemption was added.
"That’s ridiculous," he said. "We didn’t want any exemptions. … The legislators are pleased with it, the property managers love this, of course, because now they don’t have to go through the course."
Jodi Hoffman, a lobbyist with the Utah League of Cities and Towns who was involved in negotiating the landlord bill, said the exemption mirrors an exception from real estate continuing education requirements that also applies to legislators and elected officials.
"We figure if they write the law, they know what it means," said Hoffman, although she said she doesn’t know who added the exemption. "We’re not concerned about that."
Senate Majority Whip Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, the Senate sponsor of the bill, said he knew the exemption was in the bill, but said it just carries forward the continuing education exception and is "not an unusual thing."
"I don’t see it as a big deal," said Niederhauser, who is a real estate development and management executive. "If you want to be a good landlord, you ought to just take it."
HB216 passed the House on a 73-1 vote last Friday and was approved 26-0 by the Senate on Wednesday night. It now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for signature.
Sumsion said the original version of his bill met opposition during a committee hearing. It didn’t pass the committee until it was scaled back considerably.
"Many of the guys on the committee were landlords," Sumsion acknowledged. "I would have thought that they would have supported the original bill."
Salt Lake City and 10 other jurisdictions have adopted the "good landlord" program. Salt Lake City charges a "disproportionate impact" fee to rental units and landlords can get a break from the fee by taking the program.
The bill requires cities to offer reciprocity to landlords who took the program in other cities and exempts landlords who rent owner-occupied dwellings with up to four units.
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