OUR OPINION: Rental property fee plan offers compromise

By NEMS Daily Journal

A new proposal for equitable and effective rental permit fees brought forward last week by the Tupelo Development Services Department invites serious, favorable consideration by the City Council.
Raising rental fees was a key element in a reform plan backed by Mayor Jack Reed Jr., a special committee of the Community Development Foundation and some members of the council, but it floundered and died in the face of protests from landlords and some citizens opposed generally to the reforms.
Development Services Director BJ Teal unveiled a plan last week that sets new licensing fees, but also raises fees for inspections, especially when owner landlords do not comply with rental housing standards after receiving warnings/citations for noncompliance.
Teal’s idea recognizes that some rental property owners are meticulous in compliance with standards and maintain high-quality conditions in their properties. Because the city has 5,100 rental units, it’s arguable that many of those owners meet standards and comply with regulations.
Rental property is available in many different cost levels, sizes, ages and aesthetic qualities.
The one standard all should share is safe livability, with uncompromised safety and sanitation that cannot vary by cost, size and location.
The best-maintained rental properties usually are the ones occupied or at full capacity in the case of apartments or rental condominium complexes.
Rental properties maintained on the cheap and by irresponsibly neglecting maintenance should be the focus of enhanced enforcement.
The basic $25 per unit registration fee would apply to all units, regardless of monthly rental fees.
Inspections would be required whenever a unit changes tenants or every two years, and the first two inspections in the two-year cycle would be free. A third inspection would cost $1,000, $200 for a fourth visit and $400 for a fourth visit.
The ascending scale recognizes problems with properties and offers an incentive for landlords to fix problems and avoid punitive fees.
Rental regulation costs far more than the income generated by fees – about $15,000 per year under the existing scale. The low fees ($10 for single-family rentals, $30 for small apartment complexes and $100 for large complexes) are a virtual giveaway.
The newly proposed fee scale would generate about $125,000 per year, which is needed to balance the budget approved by the council, and it maintains fairness for property owners, especially those who comply with the city code.
Much higher fees proposed in the defunct Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan would have generated $850,000 annually, but that was politically unacceptable, even if it made good budgetary and community redevelopment sense.
The City Council could vote on the Teal proposals in November and have them take effect in January. The plan is a compromise and also a necessary, realistic recognition that city service fees must bear a reasonable proportion of the costs to the city’s budget.