Housing task force closer to final draft

Published 9:37 am Friday, July 18, 2008

Though discussions started off rocky Thursday during the fifth meeting of the rental housing task force, members managed to complete reviewing the revised rental housing ordinance so that it would be ready for a vote next month.

“We’ve got what we think is close to a final draft here,” said Albert Lea Fire Chief and Inspector Paul Stieler at the start of the meeting. “I think we’ve reached a stage where we can look at section by section.”

Before the group delved into the document, however, a few of the landlords present at the meeting raised concerns over why more of their recommendations were not made into the revised ordinance.

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“When we entered into these talks, it was supposed to be a compromise,” said landlord Dave Montaño Sr., now a candidate for the 5th Ward council seat. “But the document you sent to us had very minimal changes to what we were seeking.

“That’s frustrating to us because we feel like, ‘Why are we here if you guys are just going to do what you want to do?’”

Stieler said that as items were discussed during the former task force meetings, there have been changes made.

“This is not the original document,” Stieler said. “It’s not even close to the original document.”

Landlord Scott Knutson questioned whether there was a rush to get the ordinance passed or whether there was a time frame the city would like to go by.

“What’s the hurry?” Stieler asked. “Notice all the people who aren’t here? They’re tired of talking about this.”

Only about half of the task force members were present.

The discussion on rental housing formulated in April, after the Albert Lea City Council voted to table an ordinance that would have established a method of registering landlords and enforcing the already-in-place minimum housing standards to the living conditions of people who rent apartments and houses.

The ordinance would have required that before receiving a license, landlords would be required to have an inspection of their properties prior to renting them. Then subsequent inspections would be conducted every few years, depending on the results of the previous inspection. More than a dozen landlords showed opposition to this idea at that council meeting.

The landlords have continued to show much opposition while meeting with the task force.

Before any back-and-forth arguments could continue, Councilor Al Brooks broke into the conversation and said he thinks the task force should stick to what was planned for the night.

He said as they were going through the document they should speak up if there’s some large issues that need to be addressed.

“But if it’s something that really doesn’t make a difference to the rental property and how you’re running your business, we should just go on — bypass it,” Brooks said. “I think we can get this done.

“I don’t think it’s worth going back and forth.”

Montaño responded: “We’re open for compromise; we didn’t expect everything we crossed off to be granted to us. We were hoping for a happy medium.”

The task force briefly reviewed each section of the ordinance and discussed why there were changes made in some areas and not others.

Some of the questions raised were over sections about appointing a contact person, dealing with back taxes and the “three strikes and you’re out” rule for tenants are in trouble with law enforcement officials.

The group also talked about the appeals process, which landlords can appeal to if they ever have a disagreement that is up for debate.

The group made a few additional changes to the draft and Stieler said he would make those changes and then get a revised copy out to the task force members.

The next meeting will be Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. Task force members will vote on whether to recommend the document to the City Council.