Council narrowly keeps rental ordinance alive; Registration policy has been in works since 2011

Published 10:43 am Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Austin City Council preliminarily approved a rental registration ordinance Monday after months of waiting and years of work, but not without another round of discussion.

Council members narrowly approved the ordinance 4-3 with Mayor Stiehm acting as tiebreaker as Council Member Judy Enright was absent. The council is set to formally approve the ordinance on Dec. 15.

The council would create an ordinance to require all Austin rental property owners and managers to register with the city, which would effectively create a database for planning and zoning employees.

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In addition, city departments would come together to create a mandatory educational program for owners and managers that covers owner and tenant rights before they can register. City officials say the registration process and class would be free.

Under the recommendations, city inspections would continue as they have, on a complaint-only basis.

The plan was created after Enright and Council Member Jeff Austin met with former Community Development Director Craig Hoium and Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Jon Erichson earlier this year.

Yet Austin, Michael Jordal and Jeremy Carolan voted against the ordinance after another round of discussion on whether the ordinance would be effective.

“With our current ordinances in place, and our staff in place, maybe we don’t need another one,” Austin said.

Several landlords who attended the council’s work session also questioned the rental ordinance’s merit and asked why the council isn’t trying to address more properties. Council Member Janet Anderson said the city looked to tackle rental properties first as part of a plan to improve Austin’s housing.

While the council rehashed several old arguments — the ordinance has been considered in some form since 2011 — several council members suggested moving forward with the ordinance to begin dealing with bad landlords in the community.

“I think what we have here is a step in the right direction,” Council Member Steve King said.

Mayor Tom Stiehm agreed. Though he personally supports the ordinance, he said the issue would simply reappear before the council in the future if the ordinance were voted down.

“It’s like any law,” he said. “It’s not passed for a majority of the people, it’s passed for the 5 percent who abuse it.”

The council tabled the ordinance in May as it wanted to wait until the city’s planning and zoning department was fully staffed.