City tosses ball back to landlords on rental licensingThe Superior City Council may have eliminated rental licensing, but the idea of licensing leased residential property — or inspecting substandard rentals to bring them into compliance — isn’t dead.
By: Shelley Nelson, The Daily Telegram
The Superior City Council may have eliminated rental licensing, but the idea of licensing leased residential property — or inspecting substandard rentals to bring them into compliance — isn’t dead.
Exactly how the city plans to address problem rental property in the long-term is undecided, but the license and fees committee decided to take a dual track to tackle the problem in the immediate future. For now, the committee asked the mayor and administration to develop a plan to ensure problem properties get needed attention. Further, they asked the Superior Landlord Association Program to develop new stipulations landlords can live with.
Mayor Dave Ross suggested turning licensing over to the landlord group.
The idea of licensing rental property came to life after a public study of Superior’s housing woes. In 2000, the Superior Quality Housing Task Force recommended a license and inspection program to address the issue. The council never adopted that program, but rental licensing is an issue Ross has dealt with since elected in 2003.
“We’ve been at this for five years,” he said. “I’ve been in dozens and dozens and dozens of meetings. I’ve heard the public. I’ve been on the phone. I’ve had appointments. I frankly don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what anyone wants anymore, because no matter what we come up with, it’s been controversial.”
In 2003, the need for licensing rental property rose to the top. A new program required landlords to certify their properties met code, carry liability insurance and pay a license fee. Building inspections, a key element recommended in the original proposal, were not included. Shortcomings prompted a committee to review the license in 2006. That committee developed an inspection-driven ordinance adopted in September. The council repealed it in April, when the new inspection requirements went into effect.
In the last five years, Ross said, the city has had two failed ordinances. He said while the landlord association is developing the next ordinance, it will be subject to committee, public and city council review.
“I think we’d be willing to entertain anything you come up with,” Councilor Bob Finsland, chairman of the license and fees committee, told Marty Curtiss, chairman of the landlord association Monday.
But after months of trying to address problems with the ordinance that was repealed last month, Curtiss said he wasn’t sure how to take the offer for landlords to develop a new rental license program. He wondered if the intent was to poke fun at him for trying to address issues. His goal six months ago was to have city officials work with landlords to design a mutually acceptable program.
When those efforts failed, Curtiss started the Superior Landlord Association Program. He said he might still ask councilors to assist with the new ordinance; however, he plans to meet with association members May 21 before moving forward.
“I hope 100 landlords come to our next meeting,” Curtiss said. “I’ll ask them what they think, and if they think we should leave sleeping dogs lie, that’s what we’ll do.”
Ross said that would only demonstrate landlords were throwing up roadblocks because they want to be left alone. He isn’t convinced doing nothing is a solution.
“They’ve been given a wonderful opportunity by the committee,” Ross said. By letting the landlords association craft the ordinance, it gives them the opportunity to develop the solution. It’s something he would like to see more of in government — empowering critics to solve problems.
Gary Shaver, a member of the landlord association who favors rental licensing and the credibility it offers, said the association could start with the licensing ordinance the city repealed and fix the problems that led to its demise.
The council repealed the ordinance after discovering hundreds of rental units exempt from the program would leave a costly revenue shortfall. Exempt units are already subject to federal or state inspection programs because of housing subsidies.
Among Shaver’s concerns was a three-year licensing requirement when most city business licenses are renewable annually. He also was concerned about language that could prevent nonfamily members from living together if one of the roommates owns the property. Under the ordinance, such households would be rental property.
Just do it
Ross said the city couldn’t spend any more time in meetings, dealing with calls and investing time in a program that has twice failed. He recommended the way to address substandard rental property — the issue at the heart of every rental licensing effort — would be to step up inspections and make a concerted effort to deal with problem properties.
“Within the administration, we should put together a program for systematic inspection of rental properties, without any licensing, without any fees … simply part of what we do every day,” Ross said. He said with the slowdown in construction between October and May, the city would have time to conduct systematic inspections.
“No more committees, no more meetings, we simply do it,” Ross said. “And we’ll do most of our inspections from October to May. We have time to do it. That doesn’t mean there won’t be year-round inspections. If you want us to simply start doing systematic inspections, we will do it.”
Finsland said the goal was to develop a program that would prevent landlords from retaliating against tenants who complained about substandard conditions. He said having a systematic system of inspection would help solve that problem. Finsland, however, questioned how the city would determine which properties were rentals.
Ross said with the city’s complaint system and the database created through the former licensing program, the city has information about the city’s rentals. Requiring rental registration is one option to make sure the city’s information current, the mayor said.
“I like the idea of intensifying inspections from October to May,” said Councilor Esther Dalbec, a member of the committee.
“I believe with present staff, we can affect the kind of change we are trying to affect,” Ross said. “I’m not opposed to a license, but I will tell you this. I am not venturing down another road to create a license ordinance. I would like the landlord’s association to create the license and create the fee.”
Contact Shelley Nelson at (715) 395-5022 or snelson@