Increased protection for security deposits and more transparency in utility expenses are the subjects for two bills in the state legislature. Both were proposed by Associated Students of the University of Missouri, a group that lobbies for student issues at the state government level.
The security deposit bill, sponsored by Rep. Ray Weter, R-Ozark, would require landlords to hold their tenants' deposits in an account separate from any personal accounts.
If a landlord kept any money, they would have to give tenants a list of any repairs made, along with receipts for completed work.
Student Legal Services Director Steve Concannon said 40 percent of the students who come to SLS approach the school's legal advising group because of problems getting security deposits back on time or at all.
Two years ago, Concannon approached ASUM about trying to change the state's security deposit statute.
"It puts the burden on landlords to maintain records of actual repairs, and it puts more responsibility on the landlord to use those funds for actual costs," Concannon said of the system.
A system already exists to protect tenants and hold landlords accountable, property owner and landlord Arlan Gaus said. Tenants can take their landlord to small claims court if they feel their security deposit is not refunded properly or on time.
Gaus puts his tenants' security deposits in his general fund and uses the money to make repairs when the need arises. He said he would rather have discretion over how those funds are used than have them tied up in another account.
"As long as you can give it back, what's the sense of keeping it in an account and earning 1 percent interest?" Gaus said. "That money should be more fluid."
Law requires documentation if any of the security deposit is withheld. Landlords often give their tenants little more than a list of repairs and costs, without receipts or verification the repairs were actually done, Concannon said.
"We want the actual receipts for the things fixed," Concannon said.
Providing documentation of repairs would be good for tenants, Weter said.
"There will be documentation if money is held from the deposit, rather than a handshake and a 'sorry,' " Weter said.
Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-Olivette, is sponsoring another bill supported by ASUM that would make a landlord disclose the previous year's utility costs to a prospective tenant.
This would allow students to anticipate and budget for costly utility bills in the winter, ASUM Legislative Director Joe Karl said.
"With some of the older buildings in Columbia you never know what your utilities are going to be," Karl said.
Some students who moved into older buildings in East Campus had to pay as much as $500 a month for winter utility bills, Concannon said.
Gaus said this bill presents problems because tenants often pay bills directly to the utility company, and landlords generally do not have access to them.
"As it is right now, we can't get that information from utility companies," Gaus said.
This is taken into account by the bill, Zimmerman said.
If landlords cannot get the records, they can either provide the tenant with an estimated annual utility cost, or they can ask renters to waive their right to that information.
"This should help them get more information," Zimmerman said. "And more information is a good thing."