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Landlord accountability ordinance works to improve rental properties

Published: Monday, April 26, 2010

Updated: Monday, April 26, 2010 10:04

land

COURTESY PHOTOS

This house is located on the corner of W 23rd Street and Merner Avenue. It is leased by Al Hook of Inspired Mortgage and he plans on residing in the house this summer to work on fixing some problems with it.

When leasing an apartment or home in Cedar Falls, both residents and landlords have responsibilities to fill.


A few years ago, the city of Cedar Falls worked to develop a landlord accountability ordinance. This ordinance is intended to improve the condition of rental housing in Cedar Falls by encouraging landlords to keep their properties in good condition.


Regulations for housing in Cedar Falls are covered by Chapter 14 of the Cedar Falls Code. These regulations include the landlord accountability ordinance. The ordinance assigns points for violations of the code. If a landlord accumulates 15 points in the time of one year, he or she may have his or her rental permit suspended.


City Planner Martin Ryan explained part of the ordinance's role.


"The accountability ordinance is incorporated into the city's housing code, and what that means (is that) our housing code is basically the rental inspection code," Ryan said.


The landlord accountability ordinance was developed to combine several aspects of code that already dealt with housing. According to Ryan, this includes things such as keeping yards clean and houses in good condition.


"About seven or eight years ago we updated our nuisance code ordinance, talking about accumulation of debris and junk material on properties," he said. "Also, we developed a building maintenance code where owners are responsible for maintaining the exterior appearance of their homes.


"In ‘07, the ordinance was being developed with a lot of ideas, mixing in these different traditional rental housing inspections and building maintenance, and then also some other elements such as underage drinking, loud parties, some kinds of activities that kind of typically occur on rental properties," Ryan continued.


The accountability ordinance was not just developed by the city. Local landlords were invited to discuss the ordinance to see what should be included.

One of the landlords who helped develop the ordinance was Gale Bonsall, a senior broker at Trapp Realtors GMAC Real Estate. He backs the ordinance, as it encourages landlords to be more active about keeping their homes in good condition.

"I support because it assists in providing quality housing to UNI students," Bonsall said. "It assists in keeping our city looking good and it seems to be fair for all parties."


The ordinance went through a test year in 2008 to see "how the points worked and how effective we were in contacting landlords and monitoring problems; then the actual ordinance came into effect in April of ‘09," said Ryan.


The inspections that determine what problems need to be addressed at a particular property take place on a three-year cycle, but if someone, such as a neighbor, notices a problem, he or she can report it to the city planning office by calling 273-8606 and asking for code enforcement.


Ryan listed some examples of problems that warrant attention.


"That would be if the siding is deteriorating or there's some other deteriorating aspect of the main building structure – say the porch is falling apart or the handrails are falling off the decks, you know," he said.

He also mentioned that overgrown lawns or weeds, litter, illegal parking, unshovelled sidewalks in winter and other lawn maintenance problems deserve attention and should be reported.

In the event of parties or noise disturbances, the planning office receives reports from the police after the immediate situation has been resolved. The planning office then uses the reports to contact the landlords, and the landlords inform the tenants of any penalties or other business that needs attention.


Ryan said that in regard to violations of the code, the office is fairly lenient.

"As long as a landlord takes some effort to correct the problem … and (the problems) remain corrected over a period of time, we won't assign points," he said.


Between April 1, 2009 and April 1, 2010, 385 incidents were reported, with 36 properties receiving points for repeated violations. The other properties responded to the letter from the city by correcting the problems that arose. No properties have received more than six points so far.


The categories with the highest numbers of violations were "miscellaneous nuisance," "trash/litter in yard areas" and "failure to remove snow from public sidewalk." Miscellaneous nuisances include building maintenance issues, such as a need for new siding, roof repairs, decks or stairways and the like.

June, July and December showed the greatest number of violations. Building maintenance warnings that were issued in June and July account for the large numbers of violations in those months, according to David Sturch of the city planning office. June and July are also two of the four months during which no points were issued.


The number of warnings issued in December was the third highest, and those warnings were largely for uncleared sidewalks. Incidentally, December was the month with the greatest number of points issued.


For those who are interested, the Cedar Falls Code is available under the services tab on the city's Web site at www.cedarfalls.com.

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