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Provo approves rental contract law in 5-2 vote

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Pioneer Condos in southeast Provo is one of the neighborhoods affecting the zoning law. (Photo courtesy of provocondos.us)

After a few months of discussion and taking public comment — much of which was against the proposal — the Provo council voted 5–2 to require landlords to have signed contracts with all adult tenants. Councilmen Dave Harding and David Sewell voted against the measure.

The new law goes into effect Jan. 1. It will require landlords and tenants to have a written document that acknowledges the person is living in the dwelling, a copy of the rental dwelling license agreement with the city that outlines occupancy and parking limits, and a list of tenant rights and responsibilities under state law. Violation of the occupancy limits will be a Class c misdemeanor for a first offense; subsequent offenses would be Class b misdemeanors. Landlords would only be liable for occupancy violations if they knew about the violation or consciously disregarded the risk, said council attorney Brian Jones.

The new law doesn’t change occupancy limits or parking requirements, but city officials hope it will make enforcement of those laws easier.

Provo resident Tatiana Quinn said there are parts of Provo where residents thought the city didn’t enforce zoning laws.

“I feel this is very intrusive,” she said.

Quinn said she’s working on a proposal for the city to change zoning, and said the Jan. 1 date doesn’t give them enough time to finish it.

Though the law goes into effect Jan. 1, zoning officers won’t be out knocking on all rentals. Zoning officers will investigate on a complaint basis, as they do now, said Councilwoman Kim Santiago.

City zoning administrator Carrie Wall said her department will send letters this week to all rental dwelling license holders and pending license holders about the change. It also will hold open houses on the new law on Nov. 29 and Dec. 4 in the city offices from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The council has held open houses on the issue for the last few months and heard from residents during public hearings. But Sewell said almost none of that feedback had been incorporated into the proposal. He suggested changing the implementation date to March 1. Harding asked that the word “contract” in the ordinance be changed to “disclosures and acknowledgements” to avoid confusion. Both those amendments failed.

Though the law goes into effect Jan. 1, zoning officers won’t be out knocking on all rentals. Zoning officers will investigate on a complaint basis, as they do now, said Councilwoman Kim Santiago.

Jones said the new measure will make it easier for zoning officers to investigate those complaints and ensure tenants and landlords are responsible.

Assistant city attorney Marcus Draper has said when the city finds a violation, it gives the landlord and tenants time to come into compliance. And if they ultimately refuse to comply, they are charged. But he’s never seen anyone sent to jail — though it’s possible with a class B misdemeanor. Usually they make a plea in abeyance, which means it’s cleared from their record after a certain time period of following the law, and fined.

The zoning committee recommended the proposal as a way to combat over-occupancy in parts of the city. Some say over-occupancy — especially in the southeast part of the city — has caused inflated housing prices, parking issues, declines in school enrollment and wards without children. But many single people, mostly young single professionals, say the law is targeting them — attempting to force them out of areas that were once single-family neighborhoods.

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