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Montana Republicans kill measure that would have limited rental application fees

Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell.

HELENA — On a party-line vote, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have killed a bill that would have limited rental-application fees charged by landlords and property-management companies in Montana.

Sen. Keith Regier, a Kalispell Republican who chairs the panel, said Wednesday that rental markets are driven by supply and demand, and the practice of charging fees just to apply did not appear to be everywhere in the state.

“We did hear that there were landlords that didn’t charge a fee – so (prospective renters) could always go to them,” he said. “I’m afraid that we’re setting a precedent here, and the next thing we’ll get is a bill that is controlling what they charge for the rent.”

All seven Republicans on the panel voted to kill the measure on Wednesday; all four Democrats voted for it.

Sen. Diane Sands, R-Missoula, said she’d received “a ton of emails” on the bill from people objecting to the practice, and that it should be restrained.

“It’s a practice of charging fees for just simply applying for a rental, when in fact, it is just a way of accumulating some funds for services that are not provided,” she said. “It’s not for background checks, it’s not for any specific reason.”

The vote came one day after a hearing on Senate Bill 241, sponsored by Sen. J.P. Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, who said multiple constituents in Bozeman’s tight rental market had complained about landlords charging exorbitant fees just to apply for or view a prospective rental.

Her bill would have required landlords or property-management firms charging these fees to refund them to anyone who did not end up as the renter.

The Montana Landlords Association opposed SB241.

Under the bill, landlords also could have kept a portion of the application fee – if they gave written notice to the applicant specifying what that money is paying for, in terms of services performed related to that applicant, such as a background or reference check.