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Home / Commentary / To ensure housing stays affordable, keep government out 

To ensure housing stays affordable, keep government out 

Idaho has been discovered. As the fastest-growing state in the nation, one of the most important things we need to make sure we have here in Idaho is a strong, affordable housing market.  

We are blessed here in Idaho with a strong, free market in housing, but there is always room for improvement. House Bill 442 removes the last unreasonable piece of rent control in the state of Idaho. While local governments can’t meddle with the cost of rent itself, they do have the power to ban property owners from using other common practices in the leasing process, like application fees and security deposits. 

None of these choices happen in a vacuum. So, when we ask, “Should businesses or individuals be allowed to charge application fees,” we also need to ask, “What’s the alternative?” In this case, the costs to businesses that these kinds of fees normally cover will be covered by raising the rent itself.  

It’s important to remember, too, that landlords aren’t all — or even mostly — faceless, bureaucratic megacorporations. Nationwide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 70% of owners of rental properties are individuals, who usually own very few units each. Measures like security deposits are critical to ensuring that unforeseen events, or tenant negligence, don’t drive small property owners into bankruptcy — a disaster for tenant and owner alike. Restricting these measures is just another advantage that the big guy — who is better prepared to weather those costs and additional bureaucratic hurdles — has over the little guy. 

Many property owners will likely continue to maintain similar policies even once official government bans are removed. And there’s nothing wrong with that! The key is that the owners have freely made that choice, based on what works best for their own business. Owners know best what they need to balance their books, and it’s important that we keep the government out of the way of that decision, rather than attempting to dictate those choices for them through the bureaucracy. 

When rent controls are in place, it’s renters, not property owners, who bear the brunt of those policies. Rent control disincentivizes investment in improvements and new development, and in so doing artificially creates shortages of housing that hurt renters more than anyone else.  

Compared to a lot of places, we have it pretty good on the free market front in Idaho. But we shouldn’t be satisfied with resting on our laurels; there’s always more to be done to help us become freer and more prosperous as more people join us in pursuing the Idaho Dream. House Bill 442 is just such an improvement. 

 Joe Palmer represents the 20th Legislative District in the Idaho House of Representatives and is the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Defense. 


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