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Rental inspections could become less frequent

BY EMILY HOERNER | FEBRUARY 08, 2011 7:10 AM

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Iowa City officials plan to discuss ways to cut inspection costs for rental-property owners who take good care of their units.

Councilors will weigh several options, including allowing owners with historically good inspection results to be checked less frequently or be charged less money per inspection.

Though councilors will almost certainly discuss the idea, they said they do not have a specific date nor do they know if don’t know if they will make a decision on the matter.

City inspectors visit all rental properties — including duplexes, single-family homes, and apartment complexes — in two-year cycles. They check for safety infractions, such as non-functioning fire extinguishers or smoke alarms, and whether the aesthetics of a property are being maintained.

Officials said they changed single-family and duplex inspections from every three years to every two because officials saw a lack of follow-through in these properties.

Property owners must pay for each unit inspected.

Helene Hembreiker, a duplex owner, brought the issue to the attention of the City Council during a meeting two weeks ago.

Hembreiker, who has owned the duplex for 18 years, said both the prices and frequency of inspections have changed.

“I stressed in the letter that it’s frustrating because I and the two people upstairs really make a huge effort to keep everything up to standard,” Hembreiker said.

When she originally purchased the duplex, inspectors came every three years and she paid $56 for both units. Now the inspections are required every other year and cost $212.

“I am retired now and on a fixed income, [and] so are my tenants; I can only raise their rents so much,” she said. “Neither one of us can tolerate these changes.”

Hembreiker said she understands the need for safety inspections, however, she feels that the city may be going to the other extreme.

“I feel I’m being penalized by the city because they keep raising rates,” she said.

City Councilor Mike Wright said he believes the city will put the issue on a work session.

“I think most ideas that are not coming way out of left field are worth discussion,” he said.

Overall, Wright said giving preferential treatment regarding the frequency and costs of inspections to property owners who take care of their units and have no previous problems is an idea worth considering.

Stan Laverman, the housing administrator of the Housing and Inspection Services, said department staffers were looking into the idea but haven’t yet made a decision. He said many owners take good care of their properties.

“A lot of times you see that pride in ownership,” he said.

But the department still sees a lot of deferred maintenance issues, such as fire extinguishers that are continually in disrepair, Laverman said.

Dubuque, 85 miles east of Iowa City, recently passed an ordinance that would classify properties into two categories: preferential and problematic.

Properties listed as problematic are subject to more checkups than preferential properties, said Tami Ernster, Dubuque’s general housing department permit clerk. The two lists haven’t been established yet, and property owners in Dubuque don’t pay out of pocket for inspection fees.

“If a landlord receives three notches, they could be held responsible,” Ernster said.


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