Council considering rental licensing and inspection ordinance

Published 8:47 am Friday, July 21, 2017

A recent study regarding complaints at rental properties in Austin has prompted the City Council to consider a licensing and inspection ordinance.

The potential ordinance would allow the city to inspect rental properties before new tenants move in.

“Right now we have a property maintenance code, but we don’t have the ability to inspect a property at this point unless a tenant complains,” said Austin Planning and Zoning Administrator Holly Wallace.

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A committee consisting of council members and members of the Landlord Association would draft the proposed ordinance, which would then be submitted for the City Council’s approval.

The council passed a rental registration ordinance in December 2014, requiring landlords to register their properties with the city. The registry allows the city to have contact information in the event of complaints, as well as provide statistical records of rental percentages and dispersal.

Since the passage of the ordinance, 2,409 units representing 889 properties have been registered.

According to Wallace, as of July 1, about 60 percent of property complaints registered with the city came from tenants in rental properties versus 30 percent from owner-occupied properties and 10 percent from commercial properties.

“One of the main things we’re concerned about is the health and safety of the people who are tenants and are renting properties,” Wallace said.

Wallace also said there is concern about landlords lowering property values, stating that 70 percent of hazardous structures removed by the city are not owner-occupied.

“We’re concerned about maintaining property values, making sure the property is kept up and preserving our existing housing supply,” she said. “We don’t want someone to buy a property, suck all of the value out of it, and leave it for us to tear down.”

Another issue Wallace mentioned was giving landlords more options to evict troublesome tenants, stating that the number of police calls to a rental property could be limited, though there may be exceptions.

“You don’t want people to be afraid to call, especially in the case of domestic assaults,” she said.

The committee will submit the ordinance proposal to the council during an upcoming work session. If the ordinance gets enough support, the council will then vote on it at one of their regularly scheduled meetings.

The Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority currently has a low interest loan program for new landlords looking to fix and improve their rental properties.

“Operating rental properties is a business,” Wallace said. “That requires that certain responsibilities and standards be upheld.”