Highland News Leader

Health, safety issues cited as reasons for new inspections of rental properties in Highland

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

Landlords in Highland will receive extra scrutiny on their properties under a new ordinance.

The Highland City Council unanimously passed new regulations on March 19 that will require inspections of rental properties every time there is a change in tenancy or a property is sold.

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

The ordinance states inspections will help to weed out nuisance conditions in rental properties as well as ensure any health/safety issues can be resolved before people move in. The city has been working on drafting an ordinance for about a year and had asked local property managers for their input.

"The ordinance, as adopted, is not perfect but it is a start," said Rob Bowman, president of Terra Properties, which is headquartered in Highland. "Terra Properties and Frey Properties, two Highland-based landlords, had an opportunity to provide input based on our experience. While I wish the city would have incorporated a few more of our recommendations, e.g., require deadbolt locks, include an occupancy limit on the permit, and avoid the mold snafu, I think the ordinance will allow the city to hold landlords accountable to provide a safe and secure environment for their residents. The ordinance gives a voice to residents of rental properties that was lacking. Overall, the ordinance should serve to improve the rental properties in our city, thereby improving our neighborhoods and community as a whole."

However, not all landlords shared Bowman's sentiment. Two men who owned rental properties in Highland got up to speak at the March 19 council meeting against the adoption of the ordinance.

Bob Patterson, who said he has owned rental properties in Highland for decades, worried that the ordinance could become over-burdensome. The ordinance requires that 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.

"It starts off innocent, but it never ends that way," Patterson said. "It becomes a monster."

Another person representing local Realtors also voiced concerns potential concerns over how the new regulations might be implemented.

"I think what the city is going to look for is the obvious," said Mayor Joe Michaelis. "If you turn the light switch on and there's something arcing, that's obvious."

During an inspection, all safety features will be checked. This includes, but is not limited to, checking smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, doors, locks, railings, the property's major utilities, roof, etc.

"Our goal is to never have this take more than 48 hours," McGinley said.

Michaelis said much will hinge on whom the city hires to do the job. The city is currently looking at hiring two new building inspectors, plus a manager for the Building and Zoning Department.

Patterson doubted the city could find a person with the necessary education for all the tasks they are asking of the position.

"He's not gonna come in here for $40,000 a year. Hes' not gonna work for $80,000 a year. You are not going to find him," Patterson said.

City Manager Mark Latham said the inspection would be done by a standard safety survey.

"All I see is a money grab and a burden to honest people," Patterson said.

The inspection fee would be $25.

"Could we reasonably think we can make money on this?" Councilman Aaron Schwarz asked Latham.

"No," Latham replied with a chuckle and head shake.

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.

Councilman Rick Frey, who has owned rental properties, said that having inspections before anyone new could move in was a good idea, as opposed to doing inspections on a calendar basis.

"One bad renter can do a lot of damage when you are not looking," Frey said.

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

"If you keep up your property, I don't think you are going to have a problem," said Councilwoman Peggy Bellm.

Michaelis said he would invite landlords to meet with the city's new Building and Zoning personnel, once they are hired.

"I think a good gesture on our part would be to having meeting here at city hall to meet with this person and share concerns and philosophies," Michaelis said.