OUR OPINION: Rental registration aids code outlook

By NEMS Daily Journal

Passage by the Tupelo City Council on Tuesday of a stricter and more rigorous rental properties ordinance should result in better-quality rental properties citywide and possibly elimination of some properties that are ill-maintained and fail repeated, required inspections.
The council’s 6-1 vote came after months of considering how and even if rental/landlord rules should be reformed.
The ordinance passed Tuesday night puts teeth into the code and places greater accountability on the landlords who want to profit from renting residential properties.
The new law raises the annual fee per unit to $25, a substantial but not unreasonable increase.
The ordinance allots two free inspections, with an inspection required every two years. Two free inspections are allowed, but inspections after two, if required because properties are substandard, will require a fee.
After five failed inspections the city could take landlords to court. No rentals for priorities will be allowed after Jan. 1, 2012, if the property has failed inspection.
The fees will empower employment of a third code enforcement officer by the city, bringing the total to three. Tupelo has about 5,100 rental units.
Mayor Jack Reed said Wednesday that the $125,000 in new fee income cold help the city deal with the purchase and razing of razing of condemned properties, considered dangerous nuisances that are uninhabitable.
Most landlords maintain their properties to code standards, but the properties not maintained and that fall into dereliction have to be dealt with.
Blight, once unaddressed, quickly brings down surrounding property values.
As has been argued in many other cities, strategies developed around cooperation between business and local government are effective, but fees are necessary in any scenario to support the enforcement of codes that maintain livable standards.
The plan for registration reform was laid out in earlier discussions:
“We’re trying to separate the landlords who are trying to go do a good job from those who are sidestepping their responsibilities. 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,” Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said in earlier discussions.
The Development Services Department will offset the costs of running the program and hire an additional code enforcement officer.
Tupelo’s balanced budget for 2012 is calculated with the fees in place.
The change is substantial. The city currently charges only $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.
Development director BJ Teal has said her department would spend the rest of the year notifying rental property owners of the changes and that those who fail to register would face a penalty.