Archived Story

It needs to work

Published 6:01am Sunday, July 21, 2013

At times, the urge to do something about a problem overwhelms good sense. One of those situations looms in the ongoing discussion about whether Austin needs what is often referred to as a “landlord ordinance.” There is little doubt that our community has a number of rundown, eyesore rental properties. There is, however, a great deal of doubt about whether a new ordinance would actually correct the situation. It appears to be a case where adding rules won’t actually accomplish anything.

Neighbors of rundown rental properties have good reason to complain. When absentee landlords seek only to suck every possible bit of profit from their buildings by ignoring community values and basic maintenance practices, it damages the values of nearby property. In most cases, what people do with their property should be their own business; but when what they do — or, in these cases, choose not to do — damages others, it is time for a change.

The trouble is that a landlord ordinance that would create a registry of property owners, as has been proposed, would be simply a band-aid because it in no way solves the actual problem. Most proposals for such ordinances, in fact, create a new problem because they place a new regulatory burden on the vast majority of landlords who are responsible owners delivering a needed service. In other words, doing something in this case would most likely be counter-productive. The council recognized that two years ago when it voted down a proposed landlord registration ordinance.

City officials already have the ability to declare rundown properties a hazard and perhaps go so far as to tear them down. The city has already designated six properties as hazardous. Thus, if the council is willing to exercise its existing power it could conceivably correct some of the worst eyesores without adding a new ordinance.

Unless a new rental ordinance could be shown to correct a specific problem — that is, rundown properties lowering neighboring values — it would be useless. We hope, therefore, that the council will avoid creating an essentially toothless ordinance that would not solve the real problem but would burden those landlords who already do a good job with their properties.


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