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“My intent tonight is to hear everything you have to say,” he told the handful of people — mostly landlords — who attended the meeting. “If you have a question on Page One, let’s go through Page One.”
They never made it to Page Two.
Over the next 90-plus minutes, the committee members and guests debated everything from the purpose of the legislation and the role of a property maintenance officer to whether owners or occupants should be responsible if property is not properly maintained.
“We’re going to use experiences that each and every one of you and others may have had and we’re going to make sure we can address as much as possible in it,” Myers, R-at large, said. “Our goal is not to rush this through at all. Our goal is to make it so that it’s fair, so that there’s something that we can use to go after whether it’s a person that owns the property or a person that inhabits the property that’s not doing anything at all to the property — that’s the goal. It’s not to screw with the little guy, per se.”
Current code difficult to enforce
City Law Director Rob Ratliff, a longtime proponent of the proposed legislation, said the city currently uses the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) — but does not enforce all of its guidelines. Even many owner-occupied homes in the city may not meet all of the code’s standards.
“We don’t have the manpower to enforce it and two, I don’t believe as a legislative body, this entity wants to enforce that standard on our housing stock across the board,” he said. As a result, it’s difficult for his office to enforce anything.
“So what I would advocate for is a much-condensed version; let’s set our community standards,” he said. “We think these things are community standards … these things are what we say should be the bare minimum for the condition of housing within our community, and we as a people agree that this should be the bare minimum. …
“It’s simply saying that we have a set of minimum standards and we’re going to enforce these minimum standards among our housing stock so that we quit letting things sit abandoned and vacant for decades. So that we can quit watching our housing stock rot around us. So we can quit tearing down housing so that our school district is marginally smaller monthly.
“We as a people — the three members of this committee who are all landlords — have to make a decision whether we as a people are going to set standards for our community. We as a people are going to say children should not live in this kind of conditions.”
Ratliff, who has announced his resignation effective Sept. 30, told the committee members it’s their job to decide what those standards should be.
“Set your standards and hire the person who can enforce it,” he said.
‘Shift that burden’
A portion of the proposed ordinance deals specifically with vacant and abandoned properties.
“There’s structures in this town that are vacant and have been sitting empty since I was in high school,” said Ratliff, who graduated in the mid 1980s.
The city could step in to board up windows or make repairs, much as it mows neglected yards. Eventually, it can demolish buildings. But there’s no mechanism in place to pay for any of those things.
“Right now, as taxpayers, you’re paying for that,” Ratliff said. “One of the goals of some of legislation in here is to shift that burden from all of us as taxpayers to the banks and the people that are holding on to these abandoned properties.”
Landlords asked what would be considered a vacant or abandoned building, pointing out that sometimes their properties are unoccupied for long periods while they’re being rehabbed.
The city could issue vacancy permits, Ratliff said. The goal is for the officials to know who to contact if a problem arises.
Ratliff also suggested legislation that would move enforcement from the courts to the property maintenance appeals board.
Myers asked Ratliff to develop two pieces of sample legislation, one making that change and one dealing exclusively with vacant and abandoned buildings.
The committee will schedule another special meeting once that legislation is available, he said.
“Maybe we’ll get to Page Two next time,” he said.