By Emily Le Coz
TUPELO – A municipal program to inspect all rental housing will get revamped as city officials struggle with the cost and workload of the two-year-old effort.
The city launched its Residential Rental Licensing Program on Jan. 1, 2007, to combat substandard housing. It requires landlords to get a business license and submit to biennial property inspections by the city.
Three Department of Developmental Services employees handle all inspections of the city’s roughly 4,500 rental units.
About 1,500 other units in the city are managed by the Tupelo Housing Authority or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and don’t fall under the municipality’s jurisdiction.
When the program started, officials hoped to get all rental housing inspected within the first two years. Then the cycle would repeat. But as of Dec. 31, one-third of the units lack inspections, said Munita Stanfield, Tupelo’s code enforcement coordinator.
That’s because the three employees responsible for rental inspections also handle code enforcement. They respond to calls about code violations, write notices and file paperwork.
“There were three people doing code enforcement – mostly property maintenance – and then when the rental license program came in, their workload increased 1,300 percent,” said BJ Teal, department director.
That’s not a typo. It’s indeed 1,300. Teal said most people assume she’s off by a zero when presenting that figure.
At the same time, the program doesn’t earn enough revenue to offset the cost of adding an additional city inspector. Licenses cost $10 for owners with one to three units, $30 for those with four to 10 units, and $100 for those with more than 10 units.
The low fees lead some property owners to dismiss the program as a joke, Teal told the City Council in January when presenting sweeping changes to the department she now heads.
“There is no way, with the way the ordinance is written now,” she said, “that we can effectively manage the program.”
To devise a better way to run the program, Teal is working with members of her department, as well as several rental property owners and managers. One of them is Linda Beck of Cooper Realty, which manages several large and small rental properties in the city.
Beck said she understands the reason behind the program and agrees the city needs to ensure clean, safe housing for its residents. But she called the system a “trial-and-error” process since the beginning. Everybody has had to work around the stumbling blocks, she said, adding that the city has always been courteous and professional while inspecting her sites.
But Beck said she’d like to see the city maintain its fees for the good landlords and try to earn more revenue by slapping fines on the bad ones.
“I think the money should come from the properties they have to repeatedly come out and inspect,” Beck said.
Teal said she hopes to unveil the new program later this year.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.