Rental license lays on chopping blockSuperior’s rental license fees are due April 1, by ordinance. The following day,
By: Shelley Nelson, The Daily Telegram
Superior’s rental license fees are due April 1, by ordinance.
The following day, the city council considers scrapping the program and refunding fees paid so far. That’s the recommendation the city’s license and fees committee is making following a Wednesday special session.
“This is something that started out pretty inexpensive when it was first conceived, and it was a real good idea,” said City Councilor Tom Bridge, a member of the committee. “I don’t think we can live completely without some type of controls over rental property in this community, but it turned into a monster. What happened is the cost went up, then it was retooled, and the cost went up again.”
The current fee is $30 per year per unit, paid for three years to cover the cost of inspection. Previously, landlords paid $18 per unit on an annual basis for a program that didn’t include inspections.
“Three years in advance is just ridiculous,” said Sara Haugen, who owns rental property in Superior, and had more questions than answers about the program.
“One of the persons who initially started this was Mr. (Stephen) Gotelaere,” she said referring to the former fire chief, sentenced this week for embezzling nearly a quarter-million dollars from the city. “There’s not a lot of faith when he was sentenced … Throw it out and start over.”
Gotelaere was involved in resurrecting the program in 2004 after it failed to garner council approval in an earlier form. However, seeds were planted in the Superior Area Housing Initiative. The 1999 study outlined 15 recommendations to improve housing including licensing and inspecting rental property. Then, the program would have annually cost $42 per unit.
“I was disappointed that you were going to pitch the whole program” said Councilor Tom Quick, who does not serve on the committee. “I believe there are still reasons to maintain the program … assuring safety for our citizens. Throwing the thing out entirely, it seems like we’re forgetting that goal.”
Councilor Vice President Kevin Norbie wasn’t even a council member when he started working on the issue as a member of the Superior Quality Housing Task Force.
“I can’t understate how much work has gone into this program, and it’s something that has been identified as a need to this committee and the council for years now,” he said. “It’s important enough that we adopted at one point in a different form. It’s still needed.”
Councilor Jackie Stenberg, who served on a committee that created the current ordinance, said she agrees quality assurance for rental property is necessary, but feels the program has become “a behemoth.”
“I don’t know how to go about bringing what is currently into line with what has to be. … I support another one being developed, but I’m not going to argue about this one going away,” she said.
“This program addresses some very real concerns in this community,” Norbie said. “I can’t tell you how many people we heard from, especially in the first … incarnation of it. Tenants that had been intimidated, that were made to live in substandard housing, that were told if they complained to the building department, they’ll be out on their ear. It’s these people that this program was meant to help to improve low-income housing, improve living conditions for those who can’t afford better homes or homes of their own. People who didn’t have a voice.”
Superior Landlord Gary Shaver says he has many problems with the current law. He suggested putting off implementation to make the ordinance workable.
“Personally, I catch a lot of hell from my fellow landlords, but I’m in favor of a licensing program,” Shaver said. “We do need that, but we do need to have something we can work with, with the willingness of the city to work with us on this and tweak those things that need tweaking. We’ve got a start here, and if we can tweak what’s here, there’s something to work with rather than start all over. Let’s face it. Any city this size in the country has got a rental ordinance. Look around and you can see why it’s needed.”
Mayor Dave Ross, who was initially not in favor of implementing a rental license program, agrees it is necessary, but he’s in favor of appealing it in its current form after learning that exempting federally-subsidized housing would create a revenue shortfall.
“I do support that we look at this issue again,” he said.
“I think going to the old system, a complaint-based system, just didn’t work for decades,” Norbie said. “That’s why we are where we are. That being said, this committee last fall approved this ordinance. It has not changed since then. We had many meetings on it … to throw the whole program.
“It characterizes the old saying that you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater for $18,000 a year,” Norbie said.
“I think we have to get something in place before we remove it,” said Councilor Dennis Dalbec, who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. Leaving it in place would expedite the needed changes in the ordinance, he said.
“Leave it in place until we get something to take its place,” he said. “Otherwise we’re going to run into the same problems ... it’ll be years before anything happens.
Contact Shelley Nelson at (715) 395-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.