City staff: New rules would likely improve rental properties
JANESVILLE Regular inspections of rental properties funded by a landlord registration fee would improve the city's rental stock, according to Janesville city staff, but it will be up to the city council Monday night to decide if such a program is worth investigating.
Staff now inspect rental properties only after receiving complaints. Every day, inspectors find broken pipes, nonworking smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, unsafe wiring and failed heating, said Jennifer Petruzzello, neighborhood services director.
If regular inspections become a reality, "I think that we'll find significant numbers of (units) that do have housing violations," Petruzzello said.
Most people don't know the severity of housing violations inspectors find, she said. The city could address those proactively rather than wait for a complaint, she said.
Regular inspections would level the playing field for landlords who maintain their apartments by requiring others to do the same, she said.
Council President Kathy Voskuil asked the neighborhood services department to prepare background information about rental inspections and give a presentation to the council Monday.
If the council agrees staff should investigate the idea, staff would study how such a program could be implemented with input from police, landlords and others, according to a memo written by Kelly Mack, neighborhood development specialist.
The city has about 9,900 rental units.
Four additional staff—three property maintenance inspectors and a customer service worker—would be needed to administer a broader inspection program.
Total cost would be $270,000. Revenue would be about $297,000, assuming a $30 per unit fee for rental properties, according to Mack's memo.
In recent years, the city has adopted strategies to improve the quality of the housing stock, including reinspection fees, citation authority and chronic nuisance ordinances, Mack said.
In 2012, property maintenance conducted 5,356 inspections based on 1,586 complaints.
Two full-time and one part-time property maintenance specialists inspect properties to enforce minimum housing standards required by city ordinances, Mack said.
Registrations and inspections "would expand upon existing, proactive efforts resulting in consistent inspections citywide," Mack said.
"The overall health of our residential communities is a necessary component of business recruitment and economic development in Janesville."
In a survey of 13 comparable cities, five have landlord registration and/or rental property inspection programs, Mack said.
Six are working on something similar, Mack said.
Most programs require:
-- An address and contact person—not a post office box or business—for each property. Many properties are owned by people who do not live in the city or even in the state. They generally are more difficult to contact when violations are discovered. Staff spends a lot of time tracking down responsible parties, Mack said. Some programs require owners to designate a responsible party within 30 miles of the city.
-- Regular inspections for rental units. Some cities require inspections every year, others every three years. In one program, units that pass two annual inspections are not inspected again for three years unless a complaint is filed.
-- Program costs paid by owners. Some cities charge a flat fee per rental unit, while others charge for registration and inspections separately. One city charges a reduced fee for multi-unit buildings if all inspections are scheduled at the same time within one building.
Mack said such requirements would improve the quality of the city's rental stock, reduce safety complaints, stabilize property values in neighborhoods with both rental and single-family homes and speed resolution of problems.