Local landlords wary of proposal

FAIRMONT – Local landlords are unhappy, at least the dozen who showed up Friday at the Sentinel to voice their concerns about a rental ordinance Fairmont City Council is considering.

They say more people would be upset too if they knew about the proposed regulations and understood their potential implications.

An opportunity to speak publicly about the ordinance will take place next week, at a forum scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, during a City Council meeting at City Hall. On Feb. 10, the council is slated to vote on the rules.

“This is an ordinance that is just completely unnecessary,” said Danny Klous.

His father-in-law, Doug Willner, cited statistics to back the claim: For the 1,300-plus rental units in Fairmont, the city received just 10 complaints in a six-month period.

A grassroots group, Focus on Fairmont, has pushed for the city to adopt a rental ordinance, which it says would protect landlords and tenants, and improve the general appearance of rental properties.

The reasons for the ordinance are clearly laid out in the document: “The City of Fairmont recognizes the need for a program for identifying and correcting deficient rental housing units within the city. The purpose of this ordinance is to protect the public health, safety and general welfare by:

o Promoting safety from fire and accidents;

o Providing a means for the fair administration and enforcement of this code for all residential units;

o Regulating all residential rental units;

o Providing minimum standards for the maintenance of rental housing units;

o Providing minimum standards for basic equipment and facilities;

o Reducing environmental hazards to health; and

o Assisting in controlling criminal activities in rental housing.”

Landlords will have to register for a license and pass inspections every three years to keep their license.

“If this gets passed, it’s going to hurt,” said Mike Foty, noting the city’s cost of implementing the ordinance requirements likely will be passed on to landlords, who in turn will pass on the burden to tenants.

“We are concerned for the city of Fairmont. They do not have the budget to enforce this,” said Willner, noting the city has only two building inspectors.

Landlord Tim McConnell suggested Fairmont officials look to the city of Eagan, which has a simple one-paragraph rental ordinance that requires landlords to register.

McConnell has examined the proposed ordinance and says it is riddled with problems. According to him, most of the problems the ordinance claims to address are already enforceable by local and state statutes. Other points are impossible to enforce and some of the wording is contradictory, but it’s the overall affect of the regulations that are most worrisome to him.

“We as landlords do a lot for the community, fixing homes up. A lot of these houses would melt into the ground if we didn’t fix them up,” he said.

If landlords stop making investments because of the hassles of the rental ordinance, housing conditions could continue to deteriorate, with blighted homes hurting not just their neighborhood’s market values, but the community as a whole.

Already, McConnell says the proposed regulations are having a negative impact on the community.

“I know of one project in the millions that’s not happening, just because this is on the table,” he said.

Klous is concerned about the unintended impact on lending in Fairmont, since the ordinance could make being a landlord riskier than it already is. For instance, the ordinance states rental properties can be shut down immediately if they don’t meet city standards.

For landlord Sylvia Poetter, what’s most unfair has been the way the ordinance was put together: “We’ve called City Hall to ask questions, and they’ve not asked for any input from us.”

Any landlords who have questions or who want to be involved in future discussions with other landlords about the rental ordinance can contact Klous at (507) 399-9707 or email him at dandaproperties@hotmail.com