Missouri Valley’s potential rental inspection process persuaded few landlords and no tenants to attend the first public meeting hosted by Southwest Iowa Planning Council on Wednesday, Nov. 6.
John McCurdy, executive director of SWIPCO, along with Housing Inspectors Larry Feekes and Matthew Lee, were available to explain the process and answer questions, but just four landlords showed up.
“This evening is set up so we can talk about how we have done this rental inspection program in other communities, and how we would anticipate doing it here,” McCurdy said. “Our goal in this program is compliance, not enforcement.”
Because the community has a large number of rental properties, McCurdy stressed the importance of preserving the aging housing and protecting citizens’ health and safety.
“The big picture is protecting health and safety and making sure we have a high standard in our community,” McCurdy added.
The expense of building new residences far outweighs the cost of maintaining what is already available, according to McCurdy.
Though the Missouri Valley City Council has adopted the 2015 International Property Maintenance Code, it has not yet approved this inspection program, and the City of Missouri Valley has yet to set the timeline for registration, which determines when inspections will begin.
McCurdy expects the process, based off of the broadly used 2015 International Property Maintenance Code developed by the International Code Council, to move forward soon.
The city will have a copy of that code on their website, and a paper copy can be viewed at city hall or the Missouri Valley Public Library.
Although no City of Missouri Valley representatives were on hand to answer questions, McCurdy said that he did offer suggested practices for the city to adopt.
“I can’t tell you exactly what their plans are as far as how the mechanics of like the registration is going to roll out, but what I will speak to is what I have recommended to them,” he said.
He said that there is typically a registration period of about 90 days and that property owners are given notice. Landlords will register their contact information and what kind of properties are owned and rented out.
There will be a fee for a three-year permit determined by the number and type of unit. The permit amount has not yet been determined, according to McCurdy.
“With a residential rental property, the city is taking the stance that they have a vested interest,” McCurdy said.
If a property owner does not register, the city will urge compliance and fines could be assessed for chronic non-compliance.
The code applies solely to residential rentals and is only applicable as long as the property owner owns the rental. Sale of a rental would void the permit, which would then have to be re-permitted with a new owner if the property continues to be rented out.
Properties would be inspected once in a three-year cycle unless a complaint is filed.
McCurdy added that a deposit would be required from anyone filing a complaint.
Additionally, an affidavit stating that the tenant has informed the landlord in writing of the concern must accompany complaints to the city regarding their rental.
“That is one of the first things we ask, ‘Have you talked to your landlord?’” McCurdy said, “Having a deposit discourages people from dumping a bunch of spurious complaints.”
The process includes a right-of-entry as well, though proper notice is always given, McCurdy said. Landlords under Iowa Code have the right to enter their property for inspection with reasonable notice as well.
“It is not as scary as people think,” Lee said.
Feekes and Lee both added that they are generally looking for more common occurrences than landlords expect.
These common issues they frequently look for include house numbers that stand out to be easily seen by emergency crews, working smoke and fire detectors, hot running water, leak-free drains, strong and intact windows, and no way for rodents to enter the home.
“We are not in the business of putting you out of business,” Feekes said.
“We just want to see a safe and healthy environment,” Lee added.
Most findings can be corrected right away, such as replacing batteries in smoke detectors, but some require more time, money, and energy.
“There is going to be time to get things fixed,” Lee said. “We never write up a report and submit it saying you got 48 hours unless we have a dangerous situation.”
McCurdy added that some things are tenants’ responsibility, such as garbage collection, battery replacement, and other obligations as outlined in written leases.
Of the issues for which property owners are responsible, they are able to fix many things on their own, but there are some cases that call for a certified professional.
In the end, if a property owner refuses to work on valid concerns, they can be fined or compelled to do so in a court of law.
However, they also have an appeal process if they disagree with the inspection, and in the worst case, landlords can also sell their property under contract to their renter, and it is no longer a rental property and therefore not covered under the program.
The second public meeting was held on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the Missouri Valley Public Library.