Utah city to end 'Good Landlord' program's felony exclusion

Good Landlord ordinance charges a hefty business license fees to property managers who rent to people with felony convictions within the past four years but allows significant fee reductions to those who do not

By Cathy McKitrick

OGDEN — Over a decade ago, Ogden was the first Utah city to enact a Good Landlord ordinance to charge hefty business license fees to property managers who rent to people with felony convictions within the past four years but allows significant fee reductions to those who do not.

Several other cities followed Ogden’s lead and did the same. But now, 11 years later, Ogden is poised to lead in a different direction.

“We are proposing a pilot ... to look at a different way of handling those who come out of the halfway house and Weber County Jail,” said Ogden City’s Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson. “If we can find something that benefits all parties, we’ll remove the exclusion on those who have criminal felonies.”

Johnson said the city has been in discussions with various stakeholders at the state capitol through the summer and fall.

In light of broad criminal justice reforms that state lawmakers passed in March, Johnson said that Ogden’s ordinance also needs to mature and change.

Johnson said continuing collaboration is taking place with corrections officials, Adult Probation & Parole, Ogden City officials and stakeholders, the Weber County Sheriff’s Department and Utah’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

“A lot of this comes out of HB348 from last (legislative) session where they’re looking more at treating and helping people recover rather than penalizing them so much,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to get there, but we still have some bridges to cross.”

Anna Brower, strategic communications manager for the ACLU of Utah, said their understanding was that Ogden, over the next year, would voluntarily eliminate the Good Landlord provision requiring rejection of potential tenants who have a variety of criminal convictions, or are coming off parole or probation. 

“After months of stakeholder meetings, we have been assured that Ogden will work, in good faith, with Department of Corrections, CCJJ and others to ensure that people of all backgrounds can find housing while cities keep their various communities safe,” Brower said. “We absolutely believe those two priorities can co-exist.”

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said he’d been part of ongoing discussions over the past six months.

“Ogden City is one of the stakeholders, and was the first to implement the Good Landlord program so they’ve got some good experience,” Froerer said. “I’ve worked with this as a legislator and as a property manager, so I understand their issues.”

Froerer is sponsoring draft legislation that advanced out of the Political Subdivisions Interim Committee Wednesday, Nov. 18. His still-unnumbered bill aims to balance the rights of private property owners with a city’s need to safeguard neighborhoods.

Key components of Froerer’s draft bill would:

1) Bar cities from requiring landlords to deny tenancy to certain individuals

2) Bar cities from requiring landlords to provide certain information about a contract or tenant

3) Allow cities to require a copy of an agreement between property owners and their third-party property managers

4) For landlords who own several properties, the city must discount the disproportionate rental fee for each property in compliance with the Good Landlord program

“Ogden has a halfway house and a disproportionate share of felons, so the question is how do we maintain the integrity of our neighborhoods without over saturating them with felons,” Froerer said. “So we decided that Ogden will agree to remove its felony provision and in its place install a pilot program to look at individual cases . . . we need to look and see if there’s a better way and Ogden city has agreed to do that.”

Ogden’s pilot program will be the first attempt in the state to address how to best house people coming out of prison, jail and halfway houses.

“It’s an effort to reduce recidivisim,” Froerer said, adding that he expects Ogden’s pilot plan to solidify within the next month. And he’s also prepared to seek additional funding for Ogden in the form of a legislative appropriation, if needed, as the city shoulders this new responsibility.

However, Froerer’s fluid bill currently retains the felony exclusion.

“We left that portion of the statute as is with the understanding that Ogden City would amend its ordinance and start a pilot program at the first of the year,” Froerer said. “If that doesn’t happen by the end of January, I’ll amend my bill. It’s always best to give cities the opportunity to solve their problems first.”

Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson — a fan of the Cottages of Hope program that helps integrate ex-offenders back into society — said he fully supports Ogden’s proposed change.

“The intent of the Good Landlord program was good and still serves a purpose, but for those ex-offenders who are demonstrating tangible activity to better their lives, a critical point to their success is housing,” Thompson said. “They need transportation, a job, housing and food on the table. That’s all important to getting them back on the right track.”

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