Elinor Smith

(UM Legislative News Service) Under a bill moving through the Montana Senate, landlords and property owners would have to pay back rental application fees to applicants who don’t end up leasing the property. 

Senate Bill 320 is sponsored by Democratic Senator Ellie Boldman from Missoula, who said the bill was designed to even the scales between renters and landlords. 

The bill would require landlords to detail what costs potential tenants’ application fees would pay for and then return the excess within 7 days of leasing the property to someone else. Landlords would be subject to civil court cases if they don’t comply.

There were two proponents of the bill who said renters are draining their savings applying for housing. Jake Brown represented Shelter Whitefish, an organization focused on addressing the housing crisis. 

“This bill puts some pretty common-sense sideboards around application fees for renters, allows a landlord or property manager to recuperate costs for any services, like a credit or background check. If a renter has to pay, let's say 50 bucks for an application fee, and let's say they apply it at 10 different places, that's 500 bucks. You know, that's a month of rent, that's, you know, food on their family's table.” 

There was one opponent of the bill who said the bill was government overreach. John Sinrud is the president of the Montana Landlord Association.

“This bill is not necessary. It delves into the inner dealings of people's lives and their businesses as they are trying to do the job of property managing, managing people, fixing the property.” 

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.