Changes could come for Tupelo landlords

TUPELO – Plans to revamp the city’s rental housing inspection program could cost landlords more money, but it ultimately would make the system more equitable – and self-sustaining.
Under the current program, in which the city inspects rental properties before issuing landlords business permits, three fee rates exist.
Landlords who have one or two units pay $10 annually to keep their license current; those with three to 10 units pay $30; and anyone with more than that pays $100.
That means Billy Daniels, who has 11 rental properties, pays the same as Azalea Gardens, the 242-unit apartment complex on Ida Street, even though the larger complex requires more time and more resources for city building inspectors.
Inspectors check the properties every two years under the current guidelines. Landlords can’t get permits until passing inspection.
Had the program run flawlessly, it would have earned the city about $15,000 annually. But delays from lack of manpower and non-compliant landlords have hampered the process. More than three years after the program’s debut, inspectors still haven’t visited all 4,700 rental units in the city.
They just recently earned their first $15,000.
Under the new proposal, which is still preliminary, landlords with one unit would pay $50 annually; those with two to 10 would pay $100; and anyone with more than that would pay $15 per unit. Fees would cap at $3,000.
It could raise Daniels’ annual dues by $15, an increase he deemed reasonable. But it might cost Azalea Gardens an extra $2,900 a year.
“That’s a big jump,” said the complex’s manager, Judith Lynch.
Tupelo could stand to earn $90,000 a year under the new fee schedule. Money collected goes into the city’s general fund, but Development Services Department Director BJ Teal said she hopes the windfall could be earmarked for an additional building inspector.
Teal’s department handles the program with its three building inspectors. In addition to checking rental property, though, the full-time employees also oversee new building construction, lot mowing and code enforcement.
Their workload has increased 1,400 percent since the program started, Teal has said. But municipal budget constraints prevent her from hiring an additional staff member without coming up with a new revenue source.
Since the rental program absorbs most of the manpower, it should at least generate enough income to help sustain itself, Teal reasoned.
She proposed the preliminary fee schedule Monday during Fiscal Year 2011 budget talks with the City Council. But the council has yet to examine the proposal, and the fees could change before being adopted – if adopted at all.
It’s unclear when the council will study the plan, but council President Fred Pitts said he supports the concept.
“It makes sense to me that we’re not charging enough,” Pitts said.
Despite the prospect of paying more, both Daniels and Lynch praised the program for cleaning substandard rental housing. And Lynch said it helps her with liability.
But both lamented the seemingly double standard: All landlords, regardless of their properties’ conditions, must submit to the same inspections and pay the same rate.
The new plan would fix that. Currently, the city provides free inspections, regardless of how many it takes before a property finally passes. And all property is revisited every two years.
Under the proposed plan, the city would start charging landlords for inspections if they failed the first two. And for the landlords who pass immediately, their properties would need inspection only once every four years.
That, Daniels said, sounds fair.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal