Housing Code Meeting Moved to March 25th

The Forest City Council will hold an informational meeting March 26th at the Emergency Services Center or fire station beginning at 7pm. This meeting is highly controversial for some, while others welcome the discussion of the issue. It concerns the current state of rental housing with respect to the condition of the property being rented and homeowner housing. Currently, the City of Forest City has no real means of enforcement of a housing code. When renters of homes and apartments have things that break down or are potential health risks which need to be resolved, they may have landlords who are unwilling to fix the problems.  The city wants to change this by first establishing a code with requirements for all dwellings and then creating an enforcement tool for everyone involved.

The proposed housing code is known as the Forest City Rental Housing Code. But, according to the proposed code, it applies, “to all dwellings within the jurisdiction of the City of Forest City used, or intended to be used as housing for human occupancy.” In other words, there are specific codes for both renters and owner/occupants. According to Forest City Administrator Barb Smith, the codes are modeled after a nearby city.

A group of landlords met last week in Forest City to discuss the impacts the proposed codes would have on rental properties they and others own. One of the centers of concern involved the periodic rental inspection frequency by the city into rental properties. According to the code, “Rental dwelling units shall be fully inspected for the requirements of the housing code by the housing official at least once every five years in addition to inspections made upon request or on a complaint basis.”

For homeowners or owner/occupants, “Inspections shall be provided for owner occupied single family dwellings only upon request or complaint to the housing official.” It makes no mention of inspecting newly constructed homes.

For renters, the purpose is to give power where power might be needed. If the tenant cannot get the landlord to work on an issue, the tenant has the ability to go to the city and ask for help. The inspections are to make sure properties follow a set code of enforcement.

The concern by the landlord group is that there is a violation of the right to privacy on the part of the homeowner or renter. However, when the property owner(s) are infringing on others around them, action needs to be taken according to Smith and other officials.

As far as rental properties are concerned, tenants are notified well in advance. The inspection notification itself would be done in steps according to Smith.

If any violations are found, the landlord would be responsible to repair or replace the cited violation issue. A reinspection would then take place. If the violation remains, the Rental Dwelling Permit issued to the landlord would be revoked and he or she would be responsible for any subsequent fees. However, if the violations are found to be the responsibility of the occupant, then the fees fall on the occupant. The same would be the case if the occupant made two similar complaints that after two inspections, were unfounded.

In short, if the landlord is at fault, they must repair the problem. In the most serious of cases according to the code, “If the housing official finds that a condition exists which require immediate action to protect the health and safety of the occupants, the official may order that the premises be vacated and not reoccupied until the repair order has been fulfilled.” The tenant would then be forced to find other housing on their own while the repairs are made. If the landlord does not repair the issue after a reasonable amount of time, a condemnation referral may be ordered and the dwelling could be subject to condemnation and demolition.

Landlords and homeowners do have a recourse under the code. They can appeal to the Forest City Housing Advisory and Appeals Board.

Landlords are subject to a series of fees under the proposed code, including a landlords license which is $50 annually and covers all homes they rent under one fee. Inspections are $40 for a single family home, $50 for a rooming house, $100 for a duplex, and $35 per building for multiple dwellings such as an apartment complex. Re-inspections are free for the first tour, a second follow up re-inspection is $75, a third is $100, a fourth is $125, and a fifth and beyond is $150 for each inspection.

The city council will meet with the public to hear their reaction and opinions before going into official readings and deliberations on the codes later this year. The public is invited to attend.