Fairmont eyeing changes in rental rules

FAIRMONT — The Fairmont City Council approved a rental housing ordinance in April 2014. Now, some members of the current council are pushing to strengthen the rules by adding licensing requirements, inspections and criminal background checks for all tenants.

Licensing for landlords and property inspections would be every two years, a change from the current three-year term.

On Monday, Councilman Tom Hawkins made a motion and Randy Lubenow seconded it to set a public hearing for July 22 on the proposed changes.

Bruce Peters questioned the origin of the proposed ordinance, saying it “came out of the blue” with no prior council discussion or vetting. He advocated meetings with landlords, city staff and council members for additional discussion, and professed his neutrality on the matter.

Hawkins said he and Lubenow previously met with the city administrator, police chief and code enforcement official to talk about concerns Lubenow had in Ward 3. Hawkins suggested that the purpose of the public hearing will be to generate dialogue, and that the council will not necessarily have to vote on the ordinance immediately after the public hearing.

“This is one of the areas I was concerned about when I ran for council,” said Lubenow, calling some of the rental situations he has seen “heartbreaking.” He singled out the 500 block of East Blue Earth Avenue, which is near his home, as having rental properties that need better management and enforcement.

Linda Bach-Quade lives and owns rental property in Fairmont. She said the situation for landlords in the city is “terrible” and requiring criminal background checks will cost her even more money. She shared her frustration at having tenants destroy her property and plans to get out of the renting business.

“I wish we could put all those people in jail for the criminal damage they did,” Lubenow told her, adding that the council needs to do something to help both renters and tenants.

“The things mentioned are enforcement issues. They are already in the code,” Peters said. “Maybe we have an enforcement issue.”

Lubenow repeated that he is sensitive to both sides of the issue. The ordinance would not exclude anybody from renting and would offer protection for landlords.

Another area addressed in the proposed change involves inspections. The existing code allows city staff or other licensed inspectors to perform the checks, but the new language includes only the city’s licensed building inspectors or others contracted by the city.

“Can we just have the public hearing without the vote?” Peters asked. “I’m all about starting the process, but I just think there needs to be more input.”

The council gave unanimous approval to set the public hearing for 5:30 p.m. July 22.

In other business, the council:

o Approved a permit for the annual Midco/American Cancer Society charity softball tournament Aug. 9-11 at the Winnebago Avenue Sports Complex.

Fairmont City Council meetings are aired lived on cable channel 13, with rebroadcasts at 2, 7 and 10 a.m. and p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays and at 2 and 10 a.m. and p.m. on Monday. Meetings also can be viewed on the city’s website, www.fairmont.org, by clicking on “city council” on the “citizens” drop-down menu. The phone numbers and email addresses for council members also are listed on the page.