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City looks at rental housing ordinance

FAIRMONT– Several landlords were at the Fairmont City Council meeting Monday evening to voice their concerns during the public hearing for the proposed rental housing ordinance update.

City Administrator Cathy Reynolds shared that the update was in response to discussion at the May 24 city council meeting when some complaints were brought forth to council. Reynolds said at that time council asked staff to look at the ordinance and make some changes and bring it back to council for review and action.

“The key areas we’ve addressed in this ordinance are to update the definition for what accounts for a rental. One of the issues we’ve noted over time in dealing with rental ordinance is we’ve seen houses being rented under contract for deeds and not being recorded with the county,” Reynolds said.

She said the new ordinance clarifies that if a contract for deed is reported with the county, it doesn’t fall under the rental ordinance but if it’s not recorded with the county then it does follow rental ordinances.

She said other updates in the code include an update to the property inspection requirement. Right now the current code provides for a prevental inspection to be conducted sometime during the three year rental period. An update would be to require for the rental inspection to be completed at the time the license is applied for or renewed.

“It requires the inspection to be completed by the city or a contractor retained on behalf of the city to provide some continuity and consistency,” Reynolds said.

One landlord present, Danny Klous, voiced frustration with the lack of notice of the proposed ordinance change.

“There’s only seven landlords here and the reason is that none of us knew about this. I found out about it on Thursday last week. We called 20-ish landlords that we had on a list that we complied five, six years ago. One of them knew about it,” Klous said.

He said he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the current ordinance. He said he agrees that something can be added about contract for deed, but felt that repealing and changing the entire ordinance seemed baffling.

Klous pointed out some concerns with specific updates to the ordinance, including the addition of insurance proof in the application process.

“That’s an invasion of our privacy. I don’t think we have to show you what we have the house insured for, insured with. We’re going with the trust system that’s why we check the box,” Klous said.

He also took issue with the update that upon receipt of a complaint, the city shall investigate the property within 72 hours.

“I think that’s scary for properties, not even speaking of mine. I’m not scared of the city going in, I’m scared our our city inspector going in and nit-picking our properties,” Klous said.

He said he would prefer to have the opportunity to address a problem first before it goes to the city for inspection.

“I think there needs to be brakes pumped on this. You guys want to have a vote in two weeks when of the 20 landlords we called, one knew about this? I think there needs to be a lot more discussion before we move forward on this,” said Klous.

Another landlord, Doug Willner, also took issue with the proposed addition that the inspection may be completed by Fairmont City Staff designated to complete inspections or a contractor hired by the city to complete rental inspections.

He said he’s been paying about $20- $25 in the past to have a Minnesota licensed general contractor inspect properties. He asked Reynolds how much they would be paying for inspections. She said they’re looking at a graduated scale and rate schedule.

“Is it anywhere between the $20- $25 fee that I can hire people for to do it today?” Willner asked.

Reynolds said the number they’re looking at is around $50, which is close to what is being done for inspections elsewhere.

Willner asked if it’s unreasonable to inquire about the number of complaints filed in the last few years.

“How many of them after the city got in touch with the landlord did the problems get solved immediately?” he asked.

Willner suggested the council get together with city attorney, Mark Rahrick, the building inspector and landlords to go over the proposed updated ordinance.

“It’s very upsetting to feel as a member of our community… that the city is trying to ram-rod something down our throats without our input at all,” Willner said.

Willner also voiced frustration with what he viewed as lack of communication between the city and the landlords regarding relaying complaints toward rental properties or tenants.

Rahrick, who was on speaker phone, asked everyone present to remember that the proposed ordinance was just a first draft and that it was the council’s first time seeing it, too. He said the evening’s discussion was part of the process.

The council discussed next steps. Reynolds said that the proposed ordinance was brought to the planning commission at the beginning of the month and they didn’t have much input or recommendations on changes.

Council member Randy Lubenow, who had brought up concerns at the meeting in May, said that it’s a health and safety issue.

“When I hear residents don’t have hot water and need to go to Super America for hot water….” Lubenow said.

Council member Britney Kawecki said she believes it’s important to remember that a few bad apples can spoil the whole bag and that they’re trying to look out for everyone.

“Maybe everyone here is doing a good job, but out of the 32 landlords maybe there’s two bad landlords. We need to take that into considering and think about the community as a whole. If the landlords are doing their job, if you’re following the rules anyway it shouldn’t matter,” Kawecki said.

She said everything needs to be updated as time goes on. She said she has looked into other rental codes and believes it’s pretty comparable. Kawecki also said she supports having a work session.

Foster said they have held work sessions in the past with landlords and council members.

Lubenow asked Chief Mike Hunter whether responding police officers know if they’re

going to a rental house or not and what their procedure on contacting landlords for violations is.

Hunter shared that it’s dependent on the situation and that their main priority is dealing with whatever they were called for. He said that if it’s a domestic related incident it won’t be shared with landlords for confidentiality reasons.

“Tonight has given us some ground to move forward and clean up some things we’ve heard from landlords,” Lubenow said.

Council member Bruce Peters encouraged landlords to let council members know about anything in the new ordinance that they want to see removed.

The second reading of the ordinance is slated for the next council meeting on Oct. 11.The council decided to hold a work session with landlords ahead of the meeting. Reynolds said the agenda for the meeting will be posted by Oct. 7.

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