PROVO All prospective tenants, excluding Brigham Young University students, may have to submit to criminal background checks before renting property in the city.
With an aim toward reducing crime, the Provo City Council is considering a proposed measure that mandates landlords conduct background checks for every adult tenant who applies to rent a unit. Landlords can complete that check either by criminal background investigation or by verifying the potential renter is "a student at an institution of higher education which maintains a code of conduct."
While the ordinance doesn't specifically exempt BYU students from criminal background checks, some council members say it reads that way because BYU is the only local university with a code of conduct. Councilwoman Cindy Clark said the ordinance sets an uneven playing field.
"You're requiring this of students that aren't at BYU," she said. "So BYU gets sort of preferential treatment."
But Councilman George Stewart said it's not unfair treatment because BYU already places extensive requirements on landlords seeking BYU approval.
"BYU has a very stringent approval process," he said.
City Council attorney Neil Lindberg said the ordinance doesn't favor BYU because students at other academic institutions could opt for verifying their academic status if those institutions implemented codes of conduct.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins declined to comment on the ordinance, saying she would need more information.
Aside from background checks, landlords would be required to meet other guidelines or risk losing their rental license. Those include:
• Using lease forms allowing eviction of tenants for criminal activity.
• Undergoing biannual training conducted by the Provo Police Department to learn to recognize and reduce criminal activity.
• Provide proof to the city they conducted tenant background checks, used a complying lease agreement and completed biannual training to obtain their rental dwelling license application.
Some property managers expressed concern about being compelled to complete background checks for all tenants applying for rental units. But Utah Apartment Association executive director Paul Smith said it should be the "common business sense" thing to do. Harman Property Management Group, which operates more than 100 rental units in Provo and Orem, performs background checks on all potential tenants, regardless of school status, property manager Pete Harradine said. He also said they've been occasionally surprised by what has come up on some students' background checks.
"You can be a good student, but a bad tenant," he said.
The ordinance is fashioned after other cities' efforts to reduce crime, Smith said. Police and fire departments receive about 40 percent more calls for assistance from rental dwelling areas than owner-occupied areas. That translates into costs cities often offset through additional fees on rental dwelling units. For example, Smith said, Ogden used to levy a $156 fee per single-family rental unit.
In 2005, Ogden implemented a program to reduce crime through offering a $143 discount on the fee if the landlord conducts background checks on tenants, immediately evicts tenants who cause problems, complies with zoning law and enrolls in crime prevention training.
In the first year, Ogden reported a 12 percent drop in crime in its rental dwelling areas, Smith said. West Valley City also has a similar program and has reported a 30 percent decline in calls for service from police and fire departments.
Smith declined to comment on the Provo ordinance's qualifier for students who attend a university with a code of conduct. He also said he thinks the city should offer incentives to landlords to complete background checks, like Ogden, rather than mandate them.
"I don't think it's appropriate to just have a requirement for background checks," he said.
Stewart said the ordinance remains a work in progress and the council still needs to decide what level of crime would authorize landlords to evict tenants. Though Stewart supports background checks, he's not sure they should be mandatory.
"There's still some refining that needs to occur," he said.The City Council will discuss the proposed ordinance at its next work meeting in early July.