Cape prepares draft of rental inspection ordinance

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cape Girardeau officials want to license landlords and begin inspecting rental properties sometime this summer, assistant city manager Ken Eftink said Tuesday.

A draft ordinance is being prepared that should be ready for consideration by the Cape Girardeau City Council in late May with a possible effective date of July 1, Eftink said. Before putting the ordinance before the council, Eftink said, the city will meet with major landlords in the city for input on the program.

After considering inspection programs in Carbondale, Ill., Sikeston, Mo., and Ferguson, Mo., the method most likely to work in Cape Girardeau is one that licenses landlords and requires annual inspections of at least the outside of a rental property.

"The landlords would register their rental properties, and we would do an exterior inspection," Eftink said. "If it looks in good condition, we would issue a license. Problems outside would trigger a look inside to see if it would meet minimum property standards."

Maintaining minimum property standards are not the same as keeping a property completely up-to-date on building codes. The key elements are health and safety of tenants and includes items such as making sure windows and doors are not broken, that heating units are working properly and water lines are functioning normally.

The program would also include a registry of tenants. The registry would help the city collect on unpaid water and trash bills and help measure compliance with new zoning codes that tighten restrictions on the number of people who can share a unit, Eftink said.

The ordinance will propose three tiers of landlords. Those in good standing would be considered a "responsible landlord" subject to visual external inspections, Eftink said. A landlord listed as "provisional" would have properties with items that need attention and are fixable.

The license for a property with severe problems would be suspended and no one would be allowed to live there until repairs are made, Eftink said.

"It focuses on the properties you have a problem with but not well-maintained properties," Eftink said. Ferguson recently tightened its standards to require full inspections every time a property changes ownership. Ferguson officials did not return a call seeking comment.

Sikeston has been inspecting properties for about 10 years, said city manager Doug Friend. The Sikeston program focuses on tenants, requiring each to pay $15 for an occupancy permit. A city inspection is made each time the property changes hands but that can be a visual, exterior inspection, Friend said.

At least every three years, rental properties are thoroughly inspected, he said.

The program has resulted in a noticeable improvement in the condition of rental houses, Friend said. And landlords accept the inspection program and the repairs required as a cost of doing business, he said.

"You can't have a trashed-out piece of property, and that is the cost of doing business," Friend said. "We had landlords with 25 or 30 properties that weren't meeting the standard, and they had to make a business decision of whether to raise the standard of their properties and stay in business or sell to someone willing to make the investment."

Landlord Jerry Cooley of Cape Girardeau, owner of Cooley Properties, said he would welcome an inspection program that balanced the responsibilities of landlords and tenants. Cooley owns about 18 rental properties in Cape Girardeau.

"If you have tenants that continue to abuse the residences they have, that is when you have problems," he said.

Eftink said the city will work to balance all the issues in the inspection program.

"We have to deal with the behavior of the tenants," he said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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