New rental fees proposed for Tupelo

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – After a failed effort to raise rental permit fees through a city revitalization plan, Tupelo will try another approach in a proposal unveiled this week.
Tupelo Development Services Director BJ Teal presented a draft Rental Housing Ordinance that would charge landlords an annual $25-per-unit registration fee.
It also would require inspections every two years or whenever a unit changed tenants. The first two visits in each inspection cycle would be free, but it would cost $100 if officials had to return a third time for lingering violations. The fee would increase to $200 for the fourth visit and $400 for the fifth visit.
If problems persisted after that, officials would write a citation and let the court system handle it, Teal said.
Tupelo has more than 5,100 rental units, and while some are sources of blight, city leaders acknowledge not all landlords are bad.
“We’re trying to separate the landlords who are trying to go do a good job from those who are sidestepping their responsibilities,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr. during the council discussion at City Hall. “It’s also a tenant protection issue. If people are paying $600 a month for an apartment, they need a toilet that’s going to work and other assurances.”
The fees will generate an estimated $125,000 annually for the Development Services Department and will offset the costs of the running the program and pay for an additional code enforcement officer.
“Our city budget, that everybody wanted to be balanced, is based on those fees,” said council President Fred Pitts, who expects the measure to pass.
It could come up for a vote November. If it passes, the new fees would take effect in January, Teal said. Her department would spend the rest of the year notifying rental property owners of the changes. Those who fail to register would face a penalty.
Currently, the city charges $10 annually for single-family rentals and duplexes, $30 for small apartment complexes and $100 annually for large complexes. Those fees generate roughly $15,000 a year.
“We want to bring home to these landlords that we are serious,” said Teal, who has previously criticized the current fee structure as inconsequential to both the city the property owners.
It had been established in January 2007, but it failed to make the impact Tupelo leaders had desired. Teal, who joined the city in September 2008, has proposed several updates to the program but none has been implemented.
The latest proposed change was tucked into the Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan, a sweeping initiative to revitalize the city using a series of tactics.
The plan, which never passed, had recommended charging landlords $240 annually for single-family and duplexes and $120 annually per apartment unit. Inspections would have been free. It would have generated $850,000 a year.
But landlords strongly opposed the measure. Many said they would have to raise rent on their tenants to recoup the added costs.
The currently proposed fee, if passed onto tenants, averages about $2 monthly.

emily.lecoz@journalinc.com