Boone Town Council passes resolution asking North Carolina attorney general to investigate unfair and deceptive rental housing practices

Moss Brennan, Political Editor

The Boone Town Council passed a resolution to ask North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein to investigate unfair and deceptive rental housing practices in Boone. 

The resolution, passed unanimously Tuesday night, was partly the work of App State student Dalton George.

He said he was reapplying for apartments when he read that New York City capped rental application fees at $20.

Among some of the biggest rental agencies in Boone, Winkler, Holton and Boone High Country Rentals, application fees range from $50-$60. In Boone, the average rent for an apartment is $776 as of March 2020, according to rentjungle.com.

“To me, it seemed like a lot of people didn’t really realize how bad it had gotten in student rentals,” George said. “I think a lot of rental companies have gotten away with taking advantage of tenants because we don’t really know our rights.” 

George met with town council member and attorney Sam Furgiuele to figure out what the town council could do to help stop certain rental practices in Boone.

Furgiuele said George approached him with concerns, particularly about landlords that charged high fees for credit checks and weren’t clear about what the fees were used for. A credit check means a company will look at information from a credit report to understand financial behavior, according to ExperianAccording to moneycashers.com, a credit check can range from free to $34 or more. 

The resolution lists seven alleged “predatory or unfair” practices: 

  1. Charging as much as $800 per apartment in non-refundable fees to pursue credit checks on tenants and their parents, while potentially not using that money for a credit check or not using it at all. 
  2. Landlords not publishing or disclosing certain rental charges and non-refundable fees imposed until the tenant applies for housing. 
  3. Imposing a series of fines on tenants, which are not disclosed or directly included in the leases in some multi-family complexes, that make tenants abide by rules and regulations made by the management, which they freely alter.
  4. Renting by the bedroom, but requiring each tenant to guarantee full rent for an entire four-bedroom apartment, even though the tenant may not have any prior relationship with other tenants. 
  5. Tenants not being properly or effectively advised of the chance for a property to flood, or of the landlord’s refusal to take responsibility for flood damages until after the loss. 
  6. Landlords regularly deducting amounts from security deposits that represent charges for normal wear and tear.
  7. Landlords using leases that are so complex people untrained in the law can’t  decipher the many predatory and one-sided provisions.

Holton Mountain Rentals and Boone High Country Rentals, could not be reached for comment.

Cities, towns and villages in North Carolina do not have “home rule,” which means the state legislature must grant the powers and authority to municipalities and authorize them to perform certain functions, according to the North Carolina League of Municipalities. 

With home rule in mind, the resolution also asks Representative Ray Russell and State Senator Deanna Ballard to amend “the North Carolina Residential Rental Agreements Act and the North Carolina Tenant Security Deposit Act.” Russell said he would like to have a conversation with the Attorney General’s office before commenting on the resolution.

Ballard has not responded to a request for comment. 

The Residential Rental Agreements Act determines the rights, obligations and remedies under a rental agreement for a dwelling unit, according to the North Carolina state legislature. 

The Tenant Security Deposit Act sets out the rights and responsibilities of residential tenants, landlords and their agents regarding tenant security deposits, according to the North Carolina Real Estate Commission. 

During the public comment period, App State junior Emma Strange spoke along with others. 

Strange said she was given until Dec. 18 to decide whether or not to renew her lease, in which her rent would be raised by $60 per month. She said she couldn’t afford the increase. 

She applied to other rentals and paid non-refundable application fees. But, five days before her deadline to renew, her rental agency informed her rent would only go up $5 per month and the deadline was extended to Dec. 30. 

In late January, she was rejected from the five apartments she applied for and was in limbo. The person who planned to take over her lease no longer could, but Strange was able to re-sign the lease for her current apartment late. 

She also talked about how she received a $10 charge for a pumpkin near her property after a certain period of time after Halloween and confusing charges were put on her account without notification. 

“This is one of many steps in hopefully securing more steady rights for tenants in the town of Boone. I’m grateful for the town council for their willingness to hear from tenants during their meetings,” Strange said.

George said that the passing of this resolution is a huge step for affordable housing. 

“Young people in Boone have had little means to address the unfairness and have often had to accept whatever penalties, fees, or negative practices that came with what little housing they could find,” George said. “This resolution shows a commitment, by our council, to the rights of tenants.”

He also said he hopes Stein accepts the invitation to investigate the many practices stated in the resolution.