Ordinance proposes to register landlords

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 12, 2008

By Sarah Stultz , staff writer

Albert Lea tenants, landlords and other residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions Monday regarding the already debated proposed rental housing licensing ordinance up before the Albert Lea City Council.

If approved, the ordinance would establish a method of registering landlords and applying the minimum housing standards to the living conditions of people who rent dwelling units.

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All property owners who choose to rent a dwelling unit would be required to obtain a license before doing so and have an inspection of the premises prior to renting. The inspection fees per unit would be about $40, and the local Chapter 34 building code and fire code would be applied during the inspection.

Subsequent inspections would be conducted every few years, depending on the results of the previous inspection.

&8220;The bottom line of this whole ordinance is &8216;Do you want a regulation to better regulate our rental housing stock?&8217;&8221; City Manager Victoria Simonsen said. &8220;If you&8217;re satisfied with the way it is now, this is not the ordinance for us. If you want to improve the health and safety of this community, then we should pass this.&8221;

Fire Chief Paul Stieler said almost 30 percent of the housing in Albert Lea is rental units. This equates to a maximum of 2,400 units of rental property.

Stieler and Inspector Mark Roche shared horror stories about some of the living situations they have come across in rental properties.

They talked of toilets leaking from the second floor down to the first floor, of people living without running water and electricity, and of people living in homes filled with garbage.

&8220;This is a mechanism to encourage the landlords to keep these houses in good shape,&8221; Stieler said.

Simonsen said other than negative feedback she received from two landlords regarding the ordinance, all other correspondence has been positive.

The negative feedback she&8217;s heard so far has dealt with the cost of the fees and whether the inspections were even necessary, she said.

Simonsen said people need to understand that the rental housing ordinance would not change the Chapter 34 minimum housing ordinance already in place. It would just allow city building inspectors the opportunity to go in and inspect houses. Otherwise, city building inspectors only inspect rental houses on a complaint basis.

And a lot of times complaints aren&8217;t called in because tenants are afraid their landlords will raise their rent, Stieler said.

Having these inspections would help keep houses from digressing to such a dilapidated condition that they would need to be removed.

&8220;Those individuals who have trouble with this … they&8217;re probably not going to want this fee because they&8217;re not living up to the minimum housing code,&8221; Second Ward Councilor Vern Rasmussen said.

&8220;Anytime we make an ordinance, it&8217;s for the 5 percent that cause the problem. At some point we have to start saying, &8216;Do we want to let this stuff continue?&8217; At some point we have to step up and say this is how it&8217;s going to be.&8221;

Cities such as Mankato, Owatonna, Faribault, Rochester and Mason City already have similar ordinances in place, Stieler said.

During Monday&8217;s meeting, the council will also:

– Have a public hearing regarding a new Safe and Crime-Free Rental Housing program ordinance.

The crime-free initiative would be on a voluntary basis, and would train managers and property owners on how to deal with tenants and deter crime from their properties. Training is also available for tenants, teaching them how to prevent crime.

– Have the second reading and public hearing of an ordinance to be added to Chapter 38 of the City Code regarding public nuisances.

– Vote on a resolution to order a neighborhood improvement project, including the mill, overlay, curb replacement and sidewalk replacement, for specific state aid streets.

The roads involved are Hawthorne Street from Lakewood Avenue to Garfield Avenue, Lakewood Avenue from Richway Drive to North Shore Avenue, Lakeview Boulevard from Fountain Street to Vine Avenue, and Third Street from Madison Avenue to Newton Avenue.

– Vote on two topics related to the Wedgewood Cove development.

The first is the introduction of an ordinance that would develop standards and land use within the Planned Development District for the Wedgewood Cove first and second additions.

In December, the Albert Lea Planning Commission recommended the zoning change from an R1 Single Family District to a Planned Development District for the development.

The second is a resolution to accept the feasibility study for improvements to be made to West Ninth Street and Wedgewood Road, including installation of sanitary sewer, storm water, water main and bituminous roadway.

The study estimates the total cost of the improvements is about $648,000, of which 75 percent is city cost and 25 percent will be assessed to adjacent property owner.

Input regarding the project will be received during a public hearing on the issue.

– Vote on whether to authorize an annexation agreement with Albert Lea Township for properties located on South Highway 69 with address ranging from 1010 through 1120 S. Highway 69.

The five property owners involved have all petitioned for annexation.

– Vote to call a public hearing on proposed assessments for street construction and utilities along Township Road 15. The hearing would be set for May 12.

– Vote on whether to accept the lease agreement with Albert Lea Community Theatre Inc.

The lease grants the use of the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center for four productions a year and states that ACT shall pay $10,000 per year for rental of the property.

– Hear a request for permission to improve the alley located between St. Thomas Avenue and Columbus Avenue between East Main Street and Eberhardt Street.