Rental Association Positions on Proposed Housing Ordinances

DeKalb’s city council will hold a special workshop meeting August 22, 6 p.m. in council chambers, to discuss proposals related to the work of the Safe/Quality Housing Task Force. The agenda and backup materials (a 109-page PDF) are here.

If you’ve been following the work of the task force, especially lately, you know that its advice differs in several ways from recommendations advocated by city staff.

Now, the DeKalb Area Rental Association (DARA) is weighing in on those same recommendations with a position paper its board released today.

I’m posting the paper in its entirety, with very minor editing, after the jump.

Members of DARA are also concerned citizens of this community. While we believe that there has been no real or demonstrated need identified for these proposed ordinances, we do support our City Council and the Mayor for their decision to address these issues.

DARA is concerned for the City of DeKalb’s financial welfare, and suggests that implementation of any of these proposed ordinances should be done with prudence and fiscal responsibility. That being said, after careful contemplation and discussion by the Board of Directors of DARA, we take the following positions on the City of DeKalb’s proposed housing ordinances:

I. Crime Free Lease Addendum Requirement
DARA agrees with the Task Force, and recommends that the municipal code be amended to require the Addendum to be made a part of all leases for residential rental units.

Note: Crime Free Lease Addendums have not proven to actually help in obtaining judgments for eviction in the court system. However it can be positive to promote “crime free leases” so that tenants know their responsibilities to the community.

DARA is willing to sponsor voluntary “Crime Free” classes, in conjunction with the City, so as to provide landlords with maximum opportunities to avoid and evict tenants breaking the law. Going forward, DARA would also like to create a partnership with the Police and Code Enforcement Departments. We would like to have a joint meeting two (2) times a year to identify areas of concern. Certain areas are of more concern than others, and these areas can be identified through mutual cooperation. DARA rejects the idea of tying this program to any form of licensing and/or the revocation of a license for non-compliance.

DARA affirms: The need for community crime awareness & prevention education.
DARA opposes: A mandatory “crime free” program for landlords and/or tied to licensing.
DARA suggests: Voluntary “Crime Free” classes sponsored by DARA at no charge to city.

II. Chronic Nuisance Ordinance Enforcement
DARA recommends that the municipal code be amended by adopting the currently proposed “Disorderly House Ordinance.” DARA also recommends that the Police Department devote resources and/or personnel to regularly contact the landlords on a timely basis and inform them of the nuisance activities occurring on or at their properties and to establish the communication protocol needed to effectuate the Disorderly House Ordinance and process as defined in the proposed ordinance.

DARA affirms: The perpetrators should be held responsible for their actions.
DARA opposes: Holding a property owner or manager responsible for actions of a tenant
DARA suggests: Police develop rapid notice by email to landlords of nuisance activity.
DARA suggests: A communication coordinator position to distribute information.
DARA suggests: A Community Service Officer for this position.

III. Registration
DARA supports the registration of all rental units, whether they are Single Family, Multi-Family, Condominiums, or Townhomes. Registration should provide the pertinent information needed by First Responders. Included should be name of landlord, local agent’s or property manager’s name, email addresses, and other contact information in the event of an emergency.

The current registration requirements are considered adequate. The current list includes 6,208 registered units and doesn’t include properties with 2 units or less. An estimated 78% are currently registered. Registration would continue to include the already established one-time fee of $3 per unit. Landlords with registration changes must update within a reasonable time. Failure to register will lead to a fine. DARA suggests that notice of mandatory registration appear on all water bills and be highlighted in yellow.

Please note: If an estimated 20% of all rental units do not initially register, this could generate $150,000 plus in fines.

The failure to register will be identified through the course of everyday business, and there will be no need for additional staff to identify non registrants.

DARA volunteers to assist in completing the registration function for the city, making all reasonable efforts to identify rental units, and encourage registration.

DARA affirms: Need for First Responders to have immediate contact information.
DARA opposes: Yearly registration fees on properties with no information change.
DARA suggests: Easy online registration
DARA suggests: Current code is adequate with additional information.

IV. Licensing
DARA opposes licensing in its entirety. The actual need and benefit of licensing has not been demonstrated. The process of licensing, as identified by the City Staff, would be cumbersome, require additional staffing, and greatly increase the costs to the City for a very minimal, or no return.

City Manager Biernacki indicated in the June 26th joint meeting of the Task Force and City Council that very rarely, or never will a license need to be revoked, when he stated that “compliance is rarely not achieved”. If it is such a rare occurrence or need, current law should suffice.

DARA affirms: Licensing provides no productive value for its citizens.
DARA opposes: Licensing in its entirety.
DARA suggests: If current law is properly enforced, the threat of a license revocation is irrelevant and unnecessary.

V. Inspections
DARA is opposed to any regular and systematic inspection of the interiors of our community’s rental properties. The need for a higher inspection level has not been shown. Current inspection code is not being properly enforced.

We accept the Level Two Inspection Program which currently exists: an inspection program of the exteriors of the properties as viewed from the adjacent public rights of way.

Additionally, complaint based inspections are already current ordinance, allowing for any tenant to call for an inspection if he/she feels it is necessary to do so. We would support that the tenant call the landlord first to remediate the situation and if not rectified to then contact the city. The Task Force data indicated owner occupied property to have as many or more code violations as at rental property in the city of DeKalb. Therefore, DARA feels any inspections should be equally applied to owner occupied residences as well as rental.

DARA affirms: Proper enforcement of current code will require additional staff resources.
DARA suggests: Code enforcement should not commingle efforts with Police.

DARA suggests two low cost options:

Option 1:
Community Service Volunteers could serve in the first line of sidewalk inspections. These individuals, who understand basic codes and violations, would be qualified professionals, likely retired from the real estate business or building industries.

DARA would be willing to coordinate this approach on a test basis in one of our city wards. The volunteers could provide notice of violation to the property owner and proper actions to remedy the violation. If no remedial action is taken by the property owner, the violation is turned over to Code Enforcement for proper follow up.

Option 2:
Community Service Officers can be hired by the city on a part-time contract basis. As part time workers, these individuals could work for a fraction of the cost of a full time employee who carries pension and health insurance costs. By utilizing this approach, you can identify the magnitude of any problems in advance of lengthy employment commitments. And, the problem may be minimized over the course of a short period of time, leaving the City with no financial commitments for the future.

DARA affirms: Current code is adequate to safeguard the health & safety of our citizens. Need for more intrusive levels has not been demonstrated.
DARA opposes: Any regular or systematic inspection of interiors of rental property.
DARA suggests: Current city funds and taxes be prioritized to support adequate enforcement of current law.