Ogden considers changes to ‘Good Landlord’ program to allow felons more housing options

Posted at 7:48 PM, Feb 17, 2016

OGDEN, Utah -- The City of Ogden is considering changes to a housing program that could give convicted felons more options on where they can live.

Some have said this small change could have a huge impact. Vance Sorensen, who is living an Ogden halfway house, is among them.

He's on probation. His roommate, Andrew Mallery, got released from the program Wednesday.

Mallery said he faced an uphill battle finding a place to live.

"Nobody really wants to take a risk on felons," he said.

When he tried to apply to one apartment complex, he said he got denied.

"The landlord said that they don't want felons there," he said.

Sorensen said he's not looking forward to that experience when he goes through the process in a couple of months.

"Lot of people just won't rent to us from here," he said.

By "here," he meant the treatment center in Ogden, where residents include probationers and parolees.

"People get stuck here for months looking for a place to live," Sorensen explained.

The property owners and managers who deny them, have a very good reason: they're following city law.

"About 85/86 percent of them are Good Landlord properties," said Ogden City Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Johnson.

Under the Good Landlord Program, he said a property manager or owner must adhere to a certain set of rules.

That includes conducting background and financial checks. And they're banned from renting out apartments to people who have been on probation or parole for the last four years.

Landlords following the rules can get deep discounts with the city.

Johnson explained that properties pay the city a certain amount of money each year. If not on the program, that expense could exceed $80 per unit, per year. On the Good Landlord Program, he said that same expense falls to under $10.

However, Johnson said with the state moving toward community-based treatment to rehabilitate criminals and reduce recidivism, they felt it best if that program didn't include the ban.

"Corrections has not liked the felony exclusion in our Good Landlord program," he said, referring to the state Department of Corrections. "We felt that maybe it was time to come up with something new."

Throwing out the exclusion, he said, could help offenders start a stable life after prison.

"It's the right thing for the city, it's the right thing to try and help these people that come out of prison change their lives and become functioning members of society," he said.

He explained the change would be presented to the Ogden City Council as one-year pilot program proposal.

The idea is they'd make the change, then reassess how effective it was after one year. He hopes to have a full proposal ready to present by April, with it taking effect immediately if it gets the green light.

If the Ogden City Council approves the proposal, Johnson said he'd hope to help other cities implement a similar program.

For property managers, they often deal with turning felons away.

"Probably every, once every couple months we'll have someone come in," said Tyler Roessler, Business Office Adminstrator for KR Elite Real Estate and Property Management. "We can't rent to them, because they're within that four-year time frame."

Roessler said all KR Elite properties within Ogden city limits are part of the Good Landlord Program.

If the city drops the felony exclusion, he said they'd take a second look at those rental applicants.

"I think it'd allow us to maybe look at each person case-by-case, instead of a blanket, 'No,'" he said.

And for those who want a second chance, that could make a huge difference.

"Being able to have the help of finding a house, just like any regular person, and starting life over again is a huge thing for us," Sorensen said. "That's almost our number one goal."

Johnson did say all other provisions of the Good Landlord Program, like an application process with background and financial checks, would still apply under the pilot program.

And, he said, properties could still enforce their specific policies, which could still include banning convicted felons.