Archived Story

City Council to again take up rental ordinance issue by end of 2013

Published 10:05am Thursday, September 19, 2013

Once again, the Austin City Council will discuss a rental ordinance in coming weeks.

Council member Steve King urged the council to re-examine the issue at the council’s work session Monday night after receiving several calls about rental properties in disrepair.

“We’re kind of at the critical mass stage,” he told the council.

The city has grappled with the issue of problem rental owners with derelict properties for years, yet the council has yet to craft an ordinance regulating Austin’s rental housing. In 2011, the council researched and ultimately backed away from a registry for rental property owners, which supporters said would have helped the city keep tabs on dilapidated properties while critics felt the ordinance wouldn’t address the real issue: deterring bad landlords from letting their properties fall into disrepair.

Council members discussed a potential registration system in July as part of their work addressing the city’s dilapidated housing, yet the council decided to put off the issue until later this year.

Several council members see dilapidated housing and a rental ordinance as similar issues, as a rental ordinance could decrease the junk and/or illegally stored cars city workers remove from various properties.

“A good percentage of those referred to are rental properties,” said Council member Roger Boughton.

Boughton is in favor of looking at the issue once more, though he acknowledge a rental ordinance may not work for the city. He said council members dropped the 2011 ordinance despite support from the local landlord association because an ordinance would have required more staff time and budget to enforce. Though city officials say the city’s $34 million budget is still lean — City Administrator Jim Hurm said earlier this year the city has trimmed about 50 positions over the past 25 years — Boughton said it couldn’t hurt to look at the issue again.

Yet rental ordinance proponents could find more support among the council and city, as several residents have spoken with city officials in private and at the informal Conversations with the Council meetings over the past few months.

Council member Judy Enright brought up potential staff costs at Monday’s work meeting. Finance Director Tom Dankert said money to pay for another city inspector could come from the council’s contingency fund and may cost up to an extra $60,000 per year.

Not every council member is favorable toward a landlord registry, however. Council member Jeremy Carolan said in July that a rental ordinance would likely regulate property owners already in compliance with city code, but wouldn’t deter bad landlords or landlords who may live outside the community. He said he didn’t want to see the city create extra ordinances for little gain.

“Adding anything extra, it doesn’t make sense,” he told the council in July.

Mayor Tom Stiehm said Monday he would support a rental ordinance in Austin as a solution to hazardous housing or eyesore properties. The key, according to Stiehm, would be to create a policy that wouldn’t punish landlords while actively preventing housing from falling into disrepair.

“I think it’s obvious, sooner or later we’re going to have a rental ordinance,” he said. “The thing is, to just do it right.”

The council declared eight homes hazardous to the public in August as part of its efforts to hold property owners accountable for dilapidated properties. Those property owners have 60 days to get their properties compliant with city code, or the city will take them to court to determine whether those owners will contest the council’s resolution. City attorneys could ask the judge’s permission to have the city either fix or demolish those homes, at the owner’s expense.


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