Jacksonville committee discusses rental inspections
by Paige Rentz
Landlords crammed into a room Tuesday at the Jacksonville Community Center, where City Council members discussed requiring inspections for rental properties before they are occupied.

The council’s Development and Planning Committee, a three-member subset of the City Council, sent the issue to the city’s rental housing committee to review.

Councilwoman Sandra Sudduth said last week’s meeting was called after she and her colleagues heard concerns from some residents who believe inspections will curb violations of city ordinances by landlords. Councilman Mark Jones emphasized the city has no plans in the works to implement such an ordinance, but rather the meeting was to discuss whether to begin to explore the idea.

Sandra Kelly, a resident of 11th Street Northeast, expressed concern Tuesday over increasing encroachment of college student renters into single-family neighborhood in the northeast part of the city. She said she’s seen increased debris, parking in front yards and continued violation of the two-tenant limit for single-family rental properties.

In Jacksonville, said landlord Joe Lewis, property owners already have to sign a sheet saying they have complied with a list of code requirements when they apply for a rental license.

“It sounds like her concerns are with ordinances that are already in place and have nothing to do with inspections,” he said.

Former City Councilman George Areno, who owns rental property, noted that a handful of residents make the vast majority of zoning complaints, and about four out of five complaints investigated by the building department are unfounded.

Building inspector Mark Williams said that even if the city were to require such inspections, they would occur when homes are vacant and would deal with interior issues such as smoke detectors and electrical outlet covers. He said it wouldn’t be a check on the number of renters in a home or require cosmetic measures like a coat of paint.

“Ugly is not illegal,” he said.

Many of the landlords and realtors compared their current situation in Jacksonville with Anniston, which passed a rental fee ordinance in 2010.

Larry Jones, president of the Calhoun County Board of Realtors, told the committee members that such a measure would likely run off investors.

Lewis, a Jacksonville resident who also has property in Anniston, said he preferred to leave one of his Anniston homes empty rather than make required renovations – such as removing storm windows – he thinks would reduce the home’s value. Instead, he is trying to sell it.

Councilman Jones said he doesn’t like to see empty homes, but he also doesn’t like to see investors buying up property in single-family zones and changing the character of neighborhoods.

Janet Brittain, owner of J. Brittain Associates, a property management agency, said there are many forced landlords in the area after downsizing sent jobs elsewhere and people couldn’t sell their homes to move for work. Instead, they began renting their homes. In Jacksonville, she said, the tremendous number of vacant homes include rentals.

“I think this is just additional taxation,” she said. “It’s not fair to put additional burden on the rental owners.”

Staff Writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
© 2013