Archived Story

Austin likely to research rental ordinance

Published 10:26am Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Austin City Council is readying itself for a big decision.

The council will support Vision 2020’s upcoming rental housing forum on March 8 to get feedback on a potential rental ordinance. After that, the council could begin the long process of crafting and implementing an ordinance.

“I think we need to take some action,” Mayor Tom Stiehm said Tuesday night during the council retreat at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center. “I think that’s clear. I think it’s clear to most people.”

Stiehm and the council have discussed rental ordinances before. Council members have brought up a rental ordinance as a way to improve city housing over the past year, but the council tabled rental ordinance discussions early this year after another round of debate over the city’s current policies.

The council came close to enacting a landlord registration policy in 2011 after months of work, but ultimately voted the idea down despite support from the local landlord association.

“The council has been sending mixed messages on this issue,” Stiehm told the council.

Resident complaints last summer helped the council move to condemn eight properties in disrepair, as well.

At issue is whether the council should enact a registration policy for local landlords, as well as an inspection ordinance for unkempt rental properties. A full-time inspector along with fees, paperwork and other costs would run the city about $105,000 a year, according to the council’s 2011 research, while a half-time inspector would cost about $51,000 a year.

Community Development Director Craig Hoium said the city needs some sort of ordinance, based on the workload and current city issues.

Several landlords attended the council retreat Tuesday night, giving their opinion on a potential ordinance and the fees involved. Austin Landlord Peter Grover said the city likely needed to take some action, but preferred the city further research the issue and explore mandating a locally produced DVD describing good neighbor policies be given to every new resident.

Council Member Steve King said a rental ordinance could help protect landlords as well as tenants, as the ordinance would also target tenants who left properties in disrepair.

“I see the prospective ordinance as actually helping landlords in the end,” he said.

All council members agreed the Vision 2020 forum would be a good way to get more information on the issue from a citizen perspective. Council Member Jeff Austin, who previously expressed concerns with the forum, said he hadn’t realized Council Member Judy Enright had asked Vision 2020 organizers to help organize the meeting. He said he was in favor of the meeting, but didn’t like how the forum took the council by surprise.

“I’m all in favor of more information gathering,” he said.

Council Member Judy Enright strongly urged the council to take action on a rental ordinance. She argued since the community improvement initiative Vision 2020 would likely pour millions of dollars into the community over the next few years, more tenants will need better properties and better landlords to serve the community.

“If we don’t start something, we will never, ever get it done,” she said.


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