Task force OKs housing ordinance

Published 9:20 am Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Albert Lea Rental Housing Task Force on Tuesday night recommended the approval of a rental housing ordinance it has been crafting for the past five months.

At the end of a discussion over four remaining points, a vote was taken. Eleven favored approval and one opposed the ordinance. Of the 11, six votes noted approval only on the condition of some form of tenant registry.

“It’s been drawn out. It’s been a tough process, but it’s a better ordinance,” said Albert Lea Fire Chief and Inspector Paul Stieler.

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The ordinance is slated to get its first reading before the Albert Lea City Council on Sept. 22.

The main sticking point on Tuesday was a desire by landlords to have a registry that allowed landlords to access records on past problematic tenants.

If the ordinance will make landlords accountable for rental housing, “we have to have a tool in place to be proactive, rather than reactive,” said landlord Dave Montaño, who is also a candidate for Ward 5 City Council.

He said asking applicants for past landlords is not reliable. Sometimes people list a relative or friend who isn’t a past landlord but will say positive comments about the person, leaving landlords in the dark about applicants, he said.

Mediator Linda Bottelson said a tenant registry in Rochester is facing problems because of abuse. The city runs it, and landlords have access. “Their landlords think something is funny, and they share the information around the city. It won’t last much longer.”

Stieler said a registry in the rental housing ordinance would require the Inspection Department to provide information to landlords it doesn’t collect. The Police Department responds to calls and collects the information.

“The ordinance deals with tenants. You want to take it one step further and have it deal with one step before they truly get there,” Stieler said.

He said the issue of a registry will be addressed in the crime-free housing ordinance that the city already passed. That ordinance impacts the Police Department.

Cpl. Tim Mattson of the Albert Lea Police Department said the database will start when the crime-free housing ordinance takes effect, but he said the process is waiting on the rental housing ordinance to pass. There are four related ordinances and three of them have passed. Only the rental housing ordinance remains. He also mentioned the department has looked at software but has made a decision on which to purchase.

He said the registry and classes on how to use it could start this fall. The presence of a registry as part of the crime-free housing ordinance brought relief to the landlords, many of them later saying they wished they had known about that sooner.

Other points were over wording. Landlords wanted the ordinance to allow landlords seeking a rental license but having to pay back taxes in a payment plan to be allowed to get the license. The change was allowed.

In other spot, the landlords sought a payment plan for owed fees. After much debate, City Council member Al “Minnow” Brooks noted the ordinance states the fees are determined by the City Council and therefore so would any proposed payment plan. That resolved the debate, and the language was left alone.

Stieler said he sought flexibility in the language.

“The tighter we get the wording, the harder it is to work with you,” he said.

There were lesser questions about provisional licenses versus actual licenses and about renting versus sharing expenses. Minor changes were made, but they pretty much left the same language.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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