JIM ROMSAAS SPORTS EDITOR VIRGINIA — The final draft of the - TopicsExpress


JIM ROMSAAS SPORTS EDITOR VIRGINIA — The final draft of the city’s rental code proposal was rolled out Tuesday and Councilor Don Sipola says it will help cut crime in Virginia, while also improving properties to a “minimum standard.’’ Not everyone agrees, however. While the “concept is good,’’ Councilor Larry Cuffe Jr. does not believe crime will drop dramatically just due to the rental code and he questions the cost of implementing it. Sipola said the rental owner’s cost will be $4 per unit per month or $150 for a three-year license. Ultimately, that will be revenue neutral to the city, he added. Cuffe contends the rental license won’t cover reinspections or minimum property maintenance enforcement. He is also concerned about city staff time taken away from their current duties. “What are the associated administrative costs?’’ Cuffe asked. Local landlord and former city councilor Dennis Lindberg questions the costs for inspections. “If they can do it for $50 a unit inspecting, there’s no way,’’ he said. The city says they can do it for $50, he added, but it will be close to $150 to inspect one unit. Lindberg said it will ultimately cost the taxpayers to implement the new code. City officials previously stated there are 743 single to four family units at 418 locations in Virginia; and a total of 866 rentals of five-plus family units. The proposed rental license fee of $150 for a three-year period would generate an estimated $80,000 a year. o The ordinance to establish the rental code — now known as the Housing, Property Maintenance and Rental Code — will now go to a City Council Committee of the Whole meeting sometime later this month where the councilors and mayor will go through it line by line, according to Sipola. While it refers largely to rentals, the maintenance codes would apply to any building, he added. “We think that that will be helpful to ‘nudge’ home owners,’’ Sipola stated. Ultimately, the ordinance will have to be approved by the City Council before it can be put into place. If approved, Sipola said the city will rollout the initial licensing of rental units over a three year period, with one third of the city, as defined by a map, being required to comply with this ordinance each year. After the third year, the ordinance will be applicable to the entire city. According to the final draft, the license fee shall cover general administration, the initial or renewal inspection, and one re-inspection, if required. License fees will be established by the City Council. To deal with absentee landlords who live well outside the area, license applicants must identify a managing agent or contact person who resides within a 25-mile radius and has the authority to act for the owner. The code will also require landlords to share the responsibility for activity that takes place on their property, according to Sipola. According to the ordinance, the city will have a three-step process dealing with disorderly behavior. On the first instance, the licensee, property manager and tenant will be notified. The licensee will be directed to take steps to prevent further violations. On the second instance, the property manager will be requireded to attend crime-free housing training. If there is no property manager, the property owner (at his or her own cost) will have to attend the training if not completed within the previous 12 months. All three parties will be notified again and the licensee must provide a written report of previous and planned actions to prevent further disorderly behavior. On the third instance within 12 months after the first of two previous notices, all three parties will be notified once again. In addition, the code official shall revoke, suspend, or reject an application to renew the license. Sipola believes that will help cut Virginia Police calls. Currently 75-80 percent of their calls go to rentals and 43 percent of the city’s housing stock is rental. In addition, 85 percent of fire calls went to rentals, as well. Virginia Police officers are responding to 12,000 calls per year, while a bigger town like Hibbing has around 9,000 annually, Sipola said. According to Cuffe, though, crime is not necessarily a direct correlation to rentals. Several mechanisms are already in place to address some of these issues and a step-by-step training manual for landlords to help them reduce complaints and address concerns already exists. Sipola stated the Virginia code is patterned after one in Duluth that has been in place for 14 years. According to officials from Duluth, crime went down 56 percent in some troubled areas, he added, and third disorderly behavior instances rarely happen now. Cuffe doesn’t think crime in Duluth dropped that much due to just one thing, like a rental code. He feels that is not accurate and is for only a small, targeted area. The new code puts the cost of crime-free housing training on the landlords, which Cuffe disagrees with. The purpose and objective isn’t to put a burden on the landlords, he added. As far as any properties being habitable, Cuffe said the city can already be contacted to go there with a property inspector. “That’s already available to them.’’ Sipola added that inspections will be contracted out to official property inspectors under the new code. “The issue for me,’’ Cuffe said, “is do we need to implement a licensing code at this point in time.” “Before we implement, we have to do our due diligence’’ and find every property in Virginia that is completely rented or just partially. “The basic premise is good,’’ Cuffe said about the code, but “it’s not ready for implementation.’’
Posted on: Sun, 05 Oct 2014 02:49:28 +0000

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