Highland News Leader

Highland may begin requiring rental home inspections

A notice declaring an abandoned Highland property at 1311 Oak St. unfit for occupancy or use.
A notice declaring an abandoned Highland property at 1311 Oak St. unfit for occupancy or use. mbraa@bnd.com

Highland may add an extra step for landlords welcoming new tenants into their buildings.

During a council meeting March 5, an ordinance that would create a safety inspection for rental properties was presented to the council for discussion.

"We've been talking about this for a long time," said City Manager Mark Latham.

Latham said the city has explored implementing a rental inspection program three times prior. As for the new draft ordinance, he said city staff has been working to draft it for about a year.

"What we are finding is that some people take care of their property and some basically don't," Latham said.

The ordinance states inspections will help to weed out nuisance conditions in rental properties. While Latham said he does not believe nuisance properties are a large problem in the city, he said inspections would help to protect property value.

"Without a rental inspection program, we feel some rental property values will decline," Latham said.

In 2010, the city created its Landlord Registration program. The program requires all landlords to register every rental property they own in Highland. This inspection ordinance would be a continuation of the city's efforts to get city's landlords registered, according to City Attorney Michael McGinley.

"Our ultimate goal is to get 100 percent compliance," McGinley said.

How would it work?

As the ordinance is written, landlords would need a safety inspection for their property each time they rent it to someone new. The rental property would also need to be inspected at each change of ownership. The inspection fee would be $25.

If the ordinance is passed, the city will hire an employee whose sole purpose will be to preform these inspections, plus some code enforcement, Assistant City Manager Lisa Peck said.

"There's enough to spread around," Peck said.

Properties would only be inspected while they are vacant.

Latham said the inspection is a standard safety survey.

"It will make sure that everything necessary in the residence works," Latham said.

During the inspection, all safety features would be checked. This includes, but is not limited to, checking smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, doors, locks, railings, electric outlet coverings, and sidewalks. The properties electric, heating, water, drainage, and sewage systems would be evaluated. All provided kitchen appliances would also be checked.

The ordinance says the roof will be inspected for leaks, and walls will be checked for holes, breaks, cracks and rotting. All balconies, decks, stairs and other structural elements would need to be sound at time of inspection. There would be checks for mold, mildew and pests.

Upon failure of the safety inspection, the property will have to be re-inspected and approved again before a tenant could move in. Any violation of city code could also result in fine of $50 to $750 per offense, and each day the violation continues is counted as a separate offense.

"It can become expensive," Latham said.

If the inspector finds a property suitable, the landlord would receive a safety inspection certificate.

Peck said if the ordinance is approved, landlords will be provided with a checklist, so they will know what to expect before an inspection occurs.

"We're not trying to make this anymore difficult on anyone, on any of the landlords or tenants," Peck said.

Feedback from landlords

The owners of two major property management companies were present at the meeting, and both showed support for the ordinance.

"I've been pushing for some kind of rental inspection ordinance for a little over 10 years," said Gayle Frey of Frey Properties of Highland LLC.

Rob Bowman of Terra Properties was also present.

The property managers said one of the biggest benefits of having an inspection program is that it encourages all landlords to keep up with the maintenance of their property.

"It puts us all on a level playing field," Bowman said.

However, while Bowman and Frey voiced their approval of the overall idea, they also brought their own specific recommendations on the city about what should be included in the ordinance.

"Frankly, this is one of the communities that we operate in that doesn't has an ordinance like this," said Bowan, who manages properties in at least 20 communities.

Some of the subjects that were brought up included clearing up some ordinance language, better defining what a rental property was, and whether or not the city should get into testing for mold. Both Frey and Bowman also said mentioned it might not be necessary to preform an inspection after every change in tenancy.

"Other communities inspect annually, when tenancy turns over. But no more than once a year," Bowman said.

Frey and Bowman also expressed their concerns over the effectiveness of enforcing the inspections. Frey said he thinks nuisance properties are a problem, but it is almost impossible to tell when tenancy changes when landlords have the utilities in their own name.

"I don't know if there is a single neighborhood that doesn't have one of these problem properties," Frey said.

In response to the enforcement concerns, Peck said the plan is not fool proof, but at least the city would have a mechanism to uphold city code.

Latham said the city will consider the recommendations from the landlords, but overall he does not expect there will be many changes when the ordinance is up for discussion and approval at the March 19 council meeting.