Aldermen OK rental ordinance

Beginning a month from now, landlords who own rental property within the New Albany city limits will be required to register under a program that will require purchasing permits and inspections occurring every two years.

The New Albany Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve an ordinance that would establish minimum health and safety standards for rental housing in the city.  As a part of this ordinance, all landlords must have a permit and submit properties to the city’s code enforcement officer for inspection before they can rent them out.
While Aldermen Jeff Olson, Will Tucker, Scott Dunnam and Johnny Anderson voted in favor of the new ordinance, Ward 3 Alderman Tommie Beasley opposed it.
“I am not in agreement with this deal, period,” Beasley said.  “There are some things I agree with, but there are a whole bunch of things I don’t.  I can’t support it.”
Dunnam, who had originally presented a rental ordinance proposal to the board in 2010, said that his goal for the bill was not to put a burden on most landlords, but to try to make the city a safer place.
Anderson agreed.
“The reason we have laws isn’t because most people break them, but it’s because of the 10 percent that do,” Anderson said.  “There is that 10 percent of landlords who do not keep their properties up to minimum standards.  That’s the reason for this ordinance.”
The version that was passed Tuesday keeps in most of the items of previous versions intact, but allows for inspections to occur every two years, instead of one.  In addition, a property inspection would not be required should a tenant leave the property within a few months, so long as the property has remained up to standards within that time frame.
The ordinance also states that, when it takes effect next month, rental housing units that are already occupied will be exempt from inspection and may remain occupied without a certificate of occupancy until there is a change in tenants, so long as the property meets minimum standards.
Landlords will be required to apply for an occupancy permit with the city at the cost of $10 per unit and up to $100 maximum for a multi-unit apartment complex and up to a maximum of $200 if the landlord owns 20 separate homes.
Some landlords who were in attendance asked the board how it would handle fees for turning on utilities at an unoccupied residence when the code enforcement officer inspects it.  The board discussed this issue with Light, Gas and Water Manager Bill Mattox and came to the agreement that, if the code enforcement officer calls the department regarding an inspection, an employee with the department will come out and turn the utilities on with at no charge to the landlord.
Under the new ordinance, the city’s code enforcement officer is authorized to conduct inspections of rental properties when they are between tenants or if the officer should have “reasonable cause” to believe the structure’s conditions present potential hazards to current or future occupants.  This reasonable cause would include either a request by the landlord, tenant or by the officer’s “visual observation.”  The officer would have to present proper credentials and request entry and, should the building be unoccupied, would make an effort to contact the property owner.
Some of the conditions that would be considered in violation of the ordinance include any lack of or improper plumbing fixtures, heating facilities, electrical lighting, ventilation or sewage disposal, among others.  
In addition, the code enforcement officer would inspect for any structural hazards, involving deteriorated foundations, flooring, roof or ceilings, as well as faulty protection from outside weather conditions.
Other potential violations would include allowing the occupation of residents beyond the number for which the dwelling was designed or intended.
Should a landlord be dissatisfied with the officer’s findings, they would be allowed to appeal it first to the city’s planning and zoning commission and then, ultimately, to the board of aldermen itself.