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Rental rules are under fire

Justices to decide if Provo ordinance is constitutional

The Utah Supreme Court is expected to decide if a Provo city ordinance, forbidding single-family homes to be used as rentals unless they are owner-occupied, passes legal muster.

Bruce Baird, attorney for several Provo homeowners, told the Supreme Court Monday that Provo's ordinance violated the equal protection clause and other constitutional issues by requiring that a single-family homeowner must live in the home if he or she chooses to rent apartments out. Baird said the ordinance "irrationally" limits a homeowner's property rights and thus limits the value of the home.

Jody Burnett, attorney for Provo, said the Provo City Council had passed the ordinance in an effort to preserve the single-family quality of certain neighborhoods.

The ordinance, which was passed several years ago, changed a previous 1974 ordinance that allowed single-family homes to be split into duplex rentals. Burnett said the 1974 ordinance was passed at the request of Brigham Young University because of a shortage of student housing at the time. In 1974, Burnett said 95 percent of single-family homes were owner-occupied. By 1999, that percentage dropped to 40 percent, which concerned the City Council.

The city, Burnett said, assumed that homeowners tend to take better care of their property, and their community, than those renting.

However, Baird pointed out that the city contradicts that philosophy by allowing corporations to purchase single-family homes and rent them out without requiring the homes to be owner-occupied. "They can buy 400 homes and rent them out as they see fit," Baird said, adding the ordinance discriminates against single property owners.

The Supreme Court justices took the arguments under advisement and are expected to issue a ruling in the following weeks.